Brandon Lilly
How important is pronunciation?

Hey everyone!

I'm testing out a method that focuses on an unconventional approach to learning a language. The conventional method is - learning reading and writing, conversation, and then pronunciation. I think this method is absolutely absurd and that speaking with a good accent is like the "cherry on top". I'm focusing on working in the reverse order - pronunciation, conversation, and then reading and writing. That way, the language I'm learning be acquired a lot quicker, easier, and is more fun right off the bat. 

Do you think that speaking with a good accent is less important than knowing how to conjugate a verb? I'd like to know your thoughts! 

Jun 1, 2019 12:03 AM
Comments · 8
Good post, Brandon. Are teachers really putting pronunciation last? Here’s how I see it:
First pronunciation, next grammar, next everything else.

June 1, 2019
Exactly, Brandon. As I always say, the way you speak is the way you expect to hear, and it’s a lot easier to learn proper pronunciation (including prosody) from the start (preferably before learning 10000 words and 1000 grammar points with bad pronunciation). If a learner learns to distinguish “bitch” and “beach” *first*, everything is going to be a lot easier. (That is actually pronunciation rather than “accent”, but most learners have no way of knowing which is which, so they should really try to imitate everything as closely as possible.) Also, a foreign “accent” is only charming when it’s very light, after the learner has made a serious effort to achieve good pronunciation. If the rhythm is off, for example, it’s going to be hard for native speakers to understand, and let’s face it, people choose the path of least resistance. And like I said, if the learner’s rhythm is off, he won’t understand when natives speak with native rhythm. In fact, the learner will complain that "natives speak too fast". Ironically, natives will say the same thing about the learner. Finally, a foreign accent does not represent “who you really are”. It’s actually like a hockey player playing in a basketball game, ignoring the rules of basketball, and playing hockey. When learning a language, it’s important to pay attention to everything: culture, pragmatics, grammar, vocabulary, idiomatic expression, and most especially the one thing that is always evident as soon as one opens one’s mouth — pronunciation. 

June 1, 2019

I agree with Phil.

Pronunciation, then grammar, then everything else.


June 1, 2019

@Phil I appreciate you shining the light on the importance of prosody, which I think is often overlooked in traditional approaches to language teaching and even language analysis. Differences in prosody between different dialects of the same language can make them difficult to be mutually comprehensible. Personally I find it embarrassing when it happens to me, but indeed there are people from another continent who speak English with native or near-native fluency but with prosody so different from my own that it takes energy to follow.  

One suggestion I have is to listen to music sung in one's target language, especially folk tunes or those taught to schoolchildren. And then, of course, to sing along with the kids. 

June 1, 2019
Speaking of the English language in particular, I do not consider pronunciation <em>as</em> important as grammar. I have encountered many who speak with an accent, and their speech has invariably been perfectly intelligible; in fact, I quite like certain accents - they add a certain charm to the language.

As for a language like Arabic for example, I consider elocution of utmost importance, just as I do grammar and everything else.

June 1, 2019
Show More
Brandon Lilly
Language Skills
English, Russian, Spanish
Learning Language
English, Russian, Spanish