Don’t bother teaching kids to talk proper

At least our national obsession with accents makes all Americans jealous

Ellen E. Jones
Monday 29 April 2013 19:04
Comments
A mother pushes her three-year-old daughter on a swing on a playground on June 6, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. The Betreuungsgeld (child care subsidy), proposed to take effect in January 2013, would give parents that keep their children at home instead of sending them to a kindergarten €150 per child per month, causing concern amongst critics who feel that the state support would foster traditional family values as well as provide an incentive for low-income families to keep their children at home.
A mother pushes her three-year-old daughter on a swing on a playground on June 6, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. The Betreuungsgeld (child care subsidy), proposed to take effect in January 2013, would give parents that keep their children at home instead of sending them to a kindergarten €150 per child per month, causing concern amongst critics who feel that the state support would foster traditional family values as well as provide an incentive for low-income families to keep their children at home.

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

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in