Throughout our lives we engage in social interactions regularly and frequently (Clark et al. 1998:ix) language is the key and education is certainly no exception. But language and in particular accents serve so much more than to transfer information back and fourth. They are a form of social identity and set us as belonging to a certain community.
Having established the multiple interconnections of social situations and language choices, we now come on to consider how such choices are socially meaningful to others. In fact, even a single vowel or consonant sound, contrasting with others or with our expectations, can have evaluative repercussions for its utterer. (Giles & Coupland 1991:32). Surveys and investigations, Illustrate that prejudiced towards particular dialects is common (Giles and Coupland 1991:32-33).
But do students in a class form associations with teachers depending on their accents and if so does this effect their attitudes and thereby learning?
Sahlström (2005) carried out a study on Upper Secondary Students’ Assessment of Four Women Speaking Four Different Varieties of English namely Scottish, American English, Australian English, RP (received pronunciation) ie. ‘proper’ English. RP is the variety of English taught in schools and abroad when English is taught as a second language, seen in previous years as being associated with those who are well educated its popularity is decreasing most likely as it has negative connotation linked to it of being superior, posh (Trudgill 2000:194-195) and snobbish (Sharwood-Smith 1999:59-60) and (Sahlstrom, 2005).
Scottish on the other hand has positive connotations with Scottish people being viewed as friendly, hospitable and warm people (Edwards 1982:23).
Sahlström (2005) discovered that American speaker scored highest, in comparison to the other accents, on traits like ‘ambitious, articulate, benevolent, educated, friendly, organized and trustworthy’. But the Scottish accent was rated the lowest on traits such as ‘arrogant, condescending, funny, generous, sociable and wealthy’ (Sahlström, 2005).
The Australian Speaker was rated the lowest on traits such as arrogant and shy and yet she was rated the highest on traits such as Arrogant Articulate, Benevolent, confident and educated (Sahlström, 2005)
The Scottish speaker, was noted as the most experienced (Sahlström, 2005). With participants rating her as ‘confident, experienced and relaxed’ (Sahlström, 2005). But she was rated as less educated in comparison to the other speakers (Sahlström, 2005).
So it is clear from the research outlined above that there are stereotypes and prejudices against particular accents. But going back to the question that I asked previously do different accents affect the student’s learning?
Gill (1994) examined accent and stereotypes and their effect on perceptions of teachers and lecture comprehension. Gill discovered that students administered more positive ratings to teachers with standard North American accents (Gill, 1994). Interestingly accent variety also influenced comprehension (Gill, 1994). It was found that participants recalled more information from North American teachers in comparison to British or Malaysian teachers (Gill, 1994). Also stereotyping had no impact on impression formation or comprehension (Gill, 1994).
Additionally Kelly (1970) carried out research on students attitudes to regional Irish accents that indicated that there exists regional differences between teachers and pupils class- room interaction depending on their accent. So potentially pupils attend less well to teachers whose accents they perceive unfavourably on certain dimensions as supported in research by (Edwards, 1977).