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Should you have your accent reduced to sound more like a native speaker? Which English is the best?

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

These are just two of the many persistent biases people face when learning English as a foreign language. Here’s why you should never ask these questions again.

There are 1,5 billion speakers of English around the globe today (that’s 20% of the entire human population, which is around 7,5 billion).

Of these, only 360 million are native speakers of English. That’s a ratio of 3:1 in favor of non-native speakers.

As a matter of fact, only 4% of all English conversations involve native speakers. There’s a mind-blowing 96% dominated by non-native speakers, who OWN the language and use it as a means to COMMUNICATE successfully with everyone, regardless of their mother tongue.

Why is it then, that the speak-like-a-native stereotype is still so pervasive in the TEFL industry? And who the heck is a “native speaker” anyway?

English is spoken in 118 countries and is an official language in at least 59 of them (mostly former territories of the British Empire). This means that the English language is used there in formal education, media, business, and government (judiciary, legislature, administration). Which technically makes ALL the people from these 59 countries “native speakers”, right?!

Why then, when people hear the term “native speaker”, they automatically associate it with the 7 major English-speaking countries: UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa?

What about India, with its 125 million (yes, native!) speakers of English?? How about The Philippines, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda...??

Well, one explanation may be that the majority of all native speakers come from the so-called “inner circle” countries, with speakers from the USA being the largest group - 64.3%, followed by the UK - 16.7%, Canada - 5.3%, Australia - 4.7%, etc.

But there are other reasons as well why most English learners associate the language with just a few (economically powerful) countries.

Think about the popularity of the US culture through the Hollywood film industry and the show business in general. Not to mention the Silicone valley giants Google, Apple, Adobe Inc., Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, eBay, HP, PayPal, etc. Oh, yes, Amazon too!

Add to that the fact that, according to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. dollar is globally the most popular currency. As of the fourth quarter of 2019, it made up over 60% of all known central bank foreign exchange reserves. Let us not forget the dominance of Britain’s biggest banks — Barclays, HSBC, NatWest and Lloyds.

Last, but not least, "Cambridge University Press & Assessment is both a global academic and educational publisher and a leading provider of educational assessments. As a publisher, it has a global sales presence, publishing hubs, and offices in more than 40 countries. It publishes over 50,000 titles by authors from over 100 countries. Its publishing includes more than 380 academic journals, monographs, reference works, school and university textbooks, and English language teaching and learning publications. As a provider of educational assessment, it serves over 8 million learners in over 170 countries. It manages several assessment organizations: Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), Cambridge Assessment International Education, Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing, and Cambridge Assessment English for learners of the English language."

So, you get the picture. UK or US English is a matter of global power, status, and prestige. That’s why you mostly learn English from British or US course books and take only British English or American English exams. As a result, you think that THIS is the “right” model. The standard.

But guess what! You do NOT need to sound like a native speaker in order to be a proficient and successful user of the language. You do NOT have to adhere to cultural norms, nor “reduce” your accent.

All you have to do is learn enough vocabulary and grammar to speak INTELLIGIBLY- with the correct pronunciation of individual sounds, appropriate use of word/sentence stress, and intonation - and communicate clearly and confidently. Do not try to hide your own identity by imitating a native accent (unless you are an actor, of course!). Be a proud user of the English language as a LINGUA FRANCA . Spice it up with your own accent and speak it like a boss! Use it boldly. It’s YOUR language too. Own it!

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