Don’t bother teaching kids to talk proper

At least our national obsession with accents makes all Americans jealous

Share

News reaches us from the nicer side of town of parents forking out for elocution lessons for pre-schoolers as young as two.

Nathaniel McCullagh, the director of Simply Learning Tuition, told The Times that his services were particularly in demand among wealthy immigrants. “Their nannies have travelled from their home, or they are UK hires, often Filipina or Polish… so children aren’t picking up the correct speech patterns.” In this, they are trailing behind some Essex primary schools, where elocution lessons were introduced more than a year ago, in response to ridicule related to The Only Way is Essex.

The thinking is clear. A posh English accent (otherwise known as “correct speech patterns”) can smooth your child’s ascent through British society. They will be welcomed into the best universities, benefit from unconscious preference in job interviews and get to the front of the queue at Boujis. Sound enough logic, as far as it goes, although word to the nouveau riche: sack the tutor. If you’re paying £20,000+ a year in school fees and your child doesn’t come back after two terms sounding like Brian Sewell with adenoids, consider yourself mugged.

The real folly of elocution training is premised on the myth of the “non-accent”. This is a delusion that some people entertain which suggests that while Scouse/Cockney/French accents are cuddly/aggressive/sexy (delete according to your prejudice), one’s own RP English does not count as an accent all. I’ve got bad news: it does. And it’s equally likely to be the subject of snap judgements – just ask poor old, posh old Benedict Cumberbatch. So your child may emerge from elocution lessons talking proper, but they will still have an accent – the accent of someone whose parents were silly enough to pay for elocution lessons.

And there’s more bad news. If you believe that a few properly rounded vowels can save us from snobbery, you underestimate not only snobbery, but also the finely tuned British ear. It is as alive to minute vocal modulations as a bloodhound is to the scent of murder. I remember being told off for dropping “t”s as a child, on the grounds that I sounded like I was “from Hoxton”. A devastating insult, given we were all of two miles away in Homerton where, obviously, the native burr is far superior.

That’s the downside of a national obsession with accents. The upside is that they’re fun and they make Americans incredibly jealous. What a shame it would be if we responded to accent snobbery by ironing out speech differences in early childhood. Not only would this country be a less interesting place to live, but that educational effort could be so much better spent. We could, for instance, teach children to listen not only to how other people speak, but to the actual words they’re saying.

Twitter: @MissEllenEJones

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power