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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

The real social network

Date Released: Sun, 3 July 2011 12:31 +0200

“The real social network is not Facebook; it’s face-to-face,” is what the University of Alberta’s Tracey Derwing had to say in her keynote address on Monday 27 June at Interactions and Interfaces, a conference about language held at Rhodes.  Her paper talked about how accents amongst other things affect a foreign speaker’s ability to learn a second language, and how face-to-face interaction can help.

Derwing firstly discussed judgements made about people because of their accents and how detectable an accent is in speech. Some people may just assume that they will not be able to understand a person if they have a strange accent. But she also went on to mention that even if someone has a pronounced accent, they can still be easily understood.

Derwing feels that second language teachers are best equipped to help adult second language learners gain speech that is understandable even if an accent is still present. She went on to say that although instruction is a great help, interaction is big factor in the improving of language skills. Derwing referred to results from research conducted by her and Murray Munro of Simon Fraser University, which found that those subjects who interacted more with first-language speakers became more fluent in the language, while those who had next to no interaction with those who spoke the language showed no improvement and some even got worse.

Derwing concluded that second language learning is a team effort between the person learning the language, and people who already speak that language and interact with that person. Such people need to make an effort to understand those who speak with unusual accents so they are not afraid to interact with the language and its speakers. In other words, language learners need the real social network, face-to-face interaction, to improve their speech.

Article by Ayanda Mhlanga

Photo by Ju-ann Hockly