English teachers' reactions to accents in a German school. Are British English accents still the most spread?

Term Paper, 2016

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
2.1. Evaluative Reactions to Accents
2.2. Teachers Reflections on Accents
2.3. Speakers Reactions to Accents
2.4. Research Question and Hypotheses

3. Method
3.1. Design and Procedure
3.2. Material
3.3. Limitations

4. Results and Discussion
4.1. Data Cleaning and Psychometrical Quality
4.2. Language Acquisition and Classroom Language
4.3. Age Related Differences and Exposure to English Language Media
4.4. Attitudes towards British and American English Accents

5. Conclusion
5.1. Contribution to Attitudinal Research and Ideas for Future Studies
5.2. Implications for Teachers

6. References

1. Introduction

Nowadays, we are progressively diverging from one Standard English and therefore one standard accent to a more widespread variety of accents. Same goes for second language learners, as they adapt to these varieties. In Germany, English is taught in school as a second language beginning at the age of nine or ten. Due to a mixture of native and non-native speakers from all over the world, all teachers have their personal accent they employ in class. However, a few years ago, British English (English English) was still seen as the most favorable language to use in class. Because of its actuality, several studies have already been realized. As an example, it has been revealed that British English does no longer receive the highest ratings and that the American accent is emerging (Bayard et al. 2001), while Received Pronunciation (R.P.) still scored highest in Giles’ study in 1970. Regarding the context of school, the teachers’ consciousness and attitudes towards accents have been examined. In order to also take a look at the other side of the coin, Alford and Strother (1990) have concentrated on non-native speakers’ reactions to different accents. For comparison purposes, Major et al. (2002) also focused on the effects of learning from native or non-native teachers. While the authors have especially conducted their studies in the USA or around the world and have mainly focused on first language acquisition, this empirical study will focus on the usage of accents of English Teachers in a German school in the context of second language acquisition.

It becomes apparent that this theme could fill entire books due to its complexity. For this reason, the topic of research it limited to the perception of English teachers towards accents in one school in Germany. It will be examined, if British English accents are still the most spread among English teachers in German schools. After discussing the theoretical background, the method of the present study will be presented. Subsequently, the results of the evaluation of the questionnaire will be shown and finally discussed, together with the contribution to attitudinal research as well as practical implications for teachers.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1. Evaluative Reactions to Accents

When trying to evaluate the preferential accent of English teachers in German schools, it is important to take a look at general studies concerning reactions towards accents. Nearly fifty years ago, Giles (1970: 212) conducted a study to compare reactions towards British regional and foreign accents, regarding the three dimensions of “’aesthetic’, ‘communicative’, and ‘status’ contents”. 177 participants were required to rank different accents using the matched-guise technique. The three dimensions were chosen in order to consider as many fields in life as possible. Thus, according to Giles, the participants could evaluate “how pleasant-unpleasant they thought a particular accent sounded, how comfortable-uncomfortable they would feel if interacting with the accented-speaker concerned, and how much prestige or status was associated with speaking this accent” (1970: 215).

Regarding their results, it can be said that most participants were able to identify the presented accents. However, the participants rated R.P. best in all three dimensions (cf. Giles 1970: 218). Interestingly, although different British regional accents such as Welsh, Somerset, and Cockney were also included, Gilles states that the “foreign accents of French and N. American did occupy positions of relatively high prestige” (1970: 223) aiming at a higher rank before the British regional accents. Summing up, Giles (cf. 1970: 226) argues that the high ranking of R.P. might be due to primary school teachers trying to teach standard pronunciation without being open towards different accents. This will be interesting to compare to the findings of the current study concerning the attitudes of teachers nowadays towards different accents.

Similarly to Giles, Garrett (2010) focuses on studies using the matched-guise technique. After summarizing Giles’ study, he mainly focuses on the ‘inner circle’, considering studies on English accents from Australia, USA, New Zealand, Denmark, and regional standards. Summarizing Garrett’s main findings, again, R.P. is usually judged favorably in social class, status, and competence. Most findings align with each other, identifying British English as Garrett argues as “lacking in warmth, but high in social status” (2010: 60ff.).

In comparison to the previous authors’ findings, Bayard et al. (2001) used more than 400 participants to evaluate voices from New Zealand, Britain, Australia, and the USA. Employing Likert-scale questionnaires, the authors especially asked themselves if R.P. accents still held sway and if “Americans themselves still believe that R.P.-type English English accents have higher status than their own” (2001: 23). Taking a look at the results of the study, most participants were able to correctly assign the accents. While American accents were predictably confused as Canadian from time to time, the identification of British accents had a high level of accuracy (cf. Bayard et al. 2001: 33). In contrast to Gilles findings, Bayard et al. found out that the “American female voice was the highest rated” (2001: 34) considering all four dimensions of status, power, solidarity, and competence. Second scored the American male (cf. Bayard et al. 2001: 35f.) While the New Zealand voices were rated lowest and thus rather disliked, R.P. did not reach the high rankings as expected. This might be due to the advanced time resulting in linguistic change. Also Bayard et al. assume that the “American accent seems well on the way to equaling or even replacing RP” (2001: 22), not only in New Zealand but also in several other nations, which will be examined in the present study. However, as this study will focus on the accents of teachers, it is important not only to regard the general assumptions and evaluations on accents but also to regard the teachers’ own reflections on different as well as personal accents.

2.2. Teachers Reflections on Accents

Speaking differently can oftentimes lead to negative effects such as negative social evaluation or even exclusion. Even teachers, who generally accept diversity, sometimes “subconsciously hold prejudicial reactions to certain types of accented speech” (Munro et al. 2006: 68) without even noticing it. As a result, especially second language teachers should be aware of the importance of accents and diverse pronunciation. According to Munro et al. (2006: 70), as accent variation can lead to miscommunication, one way of elimination can be seen in the highly discriminating “practice of hiring only native speakers as teachers of English as a foreign language or ESL”, regardless of highly proficient non-native teachers available. This fact is extremely valuable regarding that many English teachers in German schools are non-native. It will be interesting to examine their point of view on different English accents employed in and around school. As a solution, in order to determine whether one holds stereotypical negative attitudes towards accented speech, Munro et al. (2006: 73f.) suggest consciousness-raising activities within the classroom. These come in three steps, starting with the collection of samples, using these as in-class audio presentations and eventually discussing the outcomes in class (cf. Munro et al. 2006: 74). All together, the program aims at appreciating “experiences of ESL learners in communities in which they are recognized as non-native speakers because of their accents” (Munro et al. 2006: 76). This will be of special interest for the present study, as English teachers in German schools mainly deal with non-native speakers of the English language.

Feeling confident with ones accent surely makes teachers feel more comfortable when speaking and teaching in class. Exactly this identification through accents was investigated in a study by Jenkins (2005), in which the desire to identify with an English-speaking community was investigated. Strikingly, not all participants stated that they would feel comfortable when their accent was mistaken for that of a native speaker. Whereas the Polish teacher underlined the fact that she did not “want to sound like an English person, obviously not” (Jenkins 2005: 538), another participant concluded that she would be happy about the permutation, implying that she had “a good command of the language” (Jenkins 2005: 538). It is thus not naturally the case that non-native teachers aim at becoming “pseudo-native”. Another important point investigated by Jenkins was the question whether teachers would aim at teaching one certain accent, without accepting others (2006: 540ff.). Again, the responses were rather mixed, ranging from positive answers towards the opinion that forcing students into a particular accent would not be the ideal of teaching English. As the current study will also try to examine experiences of forced accents during the participants’ education, it will be interesting to see in how far their own education influences their attitudes towards different accents nowadays. Of course the way teachers adhere to accents does not only influence their way of teaching but also highly influences the students reactions towards it, which will be dealt with in the following section.

2.3. Speakers Reactions to Accents

Although the present study will only deal with teachers’ attitudes towards accents, it is still important to shortly outline students’ reactions, as they are the ones who experience the direct consequence. As Munro et al. (2006: 73) point out, students oftentimes “rated non-native speech samples more negatively than native speaker productions”, regarding solidarity, personality, speech characteristics and education level. This mindset improved in college, probably due to level of education and maturity (cf. Munro et al. 2007: 73). Considering this fact, it is interesting to examine whether this attitude also has influence on the productivity of learning and teaching in school contexts.

For purposes of comparison between L1 and L2 listeners, Alford et al. (1990) conducted an empirical study to compare their attitudes when listening to different regional accents of U.S. English. While both L1 and L2 listeners rated the South Male speaker highest, the L2 subjects rated the Midwest Male just as high, whereas the L1 subjects rated him lower (cf. Alford et al. 1990: 488ff.). As can be seen, although a native speaking teacher might be rated highest by L1 listeners, this does not have to mean that L2 students would rate him or her just as high. This is important to consider when regarding the effects of teachers’ accents on learning. On the other hand, when regarding non-native teachers, it is important not to forget how they are perceived by students. For example, Major et al. (2002) found out that both native and non-native listeners scored significantly lower in a comprehension test when listening to non-native speakers of English. This can be considered extremely important when arguing if foreign language teachers should be native or not. Similar investigations were made by Buckingham (2014) and Kelch & Santana-Williamson (2002). While Buckingham found out that there is a preference for particular teachers based on nativeness, alluding at a preference for speakers from the UK (2014: 50), Kelch & Santana-Williamson discovered that “student attitudes toward teachers with different varieties of English is not correlated with whether a speaker’s accent is native or nonnative, but instead is correlated with the perception of whether the speaker is native or not” (2002: 57). This alludes at not only the accent itself being important, but the confidence with which the accent is employed and thus language taught.

Altogether it is apparent that accents and attitudes towards them can have different impacts on students and learning environments. Nevertheless, this paper will focus on the attitudes of teachers towards different accents.

2.4. Research Question and Hypotheses

On grounds of this theory, the study will focus on the research question if British English (English English) is more accepted and spread among English teachers in German schools than other variations. On the basis of the theoretical background as well as the research question, the following hypotheses emerge:

(1) British and American English accents are distributed quite evenly.
(2) Older teachers (>35years) tend to employ British English rather than younger teachers (<35years).
(3) The language the teachers had to employ in their “Referendariat” is also the language they now use in class (careless of their native tongue).
(4) Teachers, who are exposed to English language media more often (daily/4-6 times a week) rather employ American English than those who are less often exposed to English language media (1-3times a week/ never).
(5) Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand accents are less often employed in class than British and American variations.
(6) Participants who speak British English also rate British English more positively than American English, whereas participants speaking American English rate their own accent more positively than British English.

To sum up, these hypotheses aim at British English still being apparent and dominant in school, whereas American English is especially employed by younger teachers with more exposure to English language media. These assumptions originate from the several studies investigating in accents and attitudinal studies. This will now be transferred to English teachers in German schools.

3. Method

3.1. Design and Procedure

The investigation was realized with 15 participants, all being English teachers at the Elisabeth-Langgässer-Gymnasium in Alzey, Germany. Six participants were female and nine male, ranging from 29 to 60 years. None of them stated to be a native speaker.

In order to influence the initial conditions, the procedure was discussed and clarified with the school administration beforehand. The design of the empirical study was quantitative, as a questionnaire was employed. This was handed to all the English teachers one week before summer break. Thus, they had one week to complete it and return it to one colleague, who kindly collected them. The main instructions were to fill in the blanks and only tick off one alternative when possible. There was no time limit; the teachers could complete the questionnaire whenever they had time to do it.

3.2. Material

As already mentioned, in order to quantify attitudinal preferences, a questionnaire was employed. After general questions concerning age, sex, nativeness, media exposure and general preferences concerning accents, a Likert-scale was used in order to measure attitudes and preferences towards American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian accents. As Likert-scales have oftentimes been employed in attitudinal studies with positive results, they can be said to fulfill the quality criteria, especially reliability. They involve using equidistant numbers on a scale with semantically opposing labels attached to each end (e.g. rich/poor). A scale of numbers one to seven was chosen in order to allow a participant to have a “neutral attitude”, not being forced to choose one way or the other. For each accent variation the participants had to tick off 15 items, five for each of the three dimensions aesthetic /attractiveness, communicative/ comfort, and status/superiority.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


English teachers' reactions to accents in a German school. Are British English accents still the most spread?
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Department of English and Linguistics)
English Today and Tomorrow
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Accents, British English, American English, German Schools, Teachers' Reactions
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Anonymous, 2016, English teachers' reactions to accents in a German school. Are British English accents still the most spread?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/538804


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