Should we strive for “native accents”?

Hi everyone,

Following on from one of my linguistics modules this year, I’ve been considering the use of native speakers as a model for L2 language learners. As well as cultural references, idiolects, and lexical items, accent is a particularly interesting area:

I recently read this article, where the author is told that “A lot of people coming to the UK didn’t want their children speaking in a funny accent.” Maybe in the past, it was less acceptable to have a foreign, non-native accent, but as times have changed so have attitudes and even reality. That’s to say, particularly for English, natives are no longer just speakers in the UK or the USA, but also in many parts of Africa, Australia, India and so on. Is it then appropriate, for a speaker learning English in India, for example, to learn British or American English, and not a more relevant local variety?

Recent linguistic research has also questioned whether native pronunciation should ever be a target. They argue that a foreign accent is part of our identity and not something we should try to suppress or get rid of, unlike “non-native” collocations or syntactic errors, which may cause misunderstandings.

What do you think? Should learners strive for a native-like accent, and if so, which one? Should a foreign accent be something to be ultimately overcome, or does it index our identity?

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