Accent signifies the distinctive manner in which a person or group of people deploys the sounds of a language’s phonemic inventory. Scholarly discussions regarding accent have often revolved around the “contradictory” twin principles of nativeness and intelligibility (Scales et al. 716). For speakers who want to learn a language to integrate themselves with a group or take on a particular identity associated with a particular accent, nativeness or native-sounding speech may be most desirable. Speakers may attempt to blend in by sounding like those in their “social networks,” including friends, peers, neighbors, teachers, etc. (Carhill-Poza 679).
Crowther et al. has pointed out that, in some cases, accented speech may limit speakers’ ability to accomplish work tasks because of negative factors such others’ biases or prejudices, which provide motivation to reduce or eliminate a “foreign” accent (81). Speakers who have managed to develop a native- or near-native sounding accent may even choose to alter their it or code-switch temporarily depending on situational factors, such as audience, setting, or personal motivation or comfort (Moyer 2).
On the other hand, some speakers see language as more of a tool for accomplishing tasks. In those cases, intelligibility rather than nativeness may be a more desirable goal, especially if, for their purposes, it is more important to be understood than to be considered part of a group.
Intelligibility is often a more realistic goal for many speakers than nativeness, particularly for late adult learners, since nativeness is not always an attainable or even a necessary outcome (see Critical Period Hypothesis). When evaluating a student’s oral communicative competence, teachers would ideally allow factors such as learner age and goals to influence their assessment, although such adjustments may not always be situationally or programmatically feasible.
Carhill-Poza, Avary. “Opportunities and Outcomes: The Role of Peers in Developing Oral Academic English Proficiency of Adolescent English Learners.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2015, pp. 678–95. https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12271.
Crowther, Dustin, et al. “Does a Speaking Task Affect Second Language Comprehensibility?” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 99, no. 1, 2015, pp. 80-95.
Moyer, Alene. Foreign Accent: The Phenomenon of Non-Native Speech. Cambridge, 2013.
Scales, Julie, et al. “Language Learners’ Perceptions of Accent.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2006, pp. 715–738. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40264305.