How important is it to have perfect pronunciation?

Chiara wrote in to ask:

How important is it for a teacher who is not a native speaker to have a perfect pronunciation? I think I am a very ‘passionate’ teacher, but I feel insecure because my accent is not exactly like a mother tongue teacher’s accent…

Thank you soo much

Thank you Chiara.

Well the easy answer is …. whilst it is very important for the kids to *hear* native speaker pronunciation,  it doesn’t matter if your own pronunciation isn’t perfect.    Passion is by far the most important thing.  So if you use Genki English for the input, no need to worry!

The longer answer is ….

First of all the vast majority (at least 99%) of English teachers in the world don’t speak  any English at all.  (In many countries if they could speak English they would go get higher paid jobs!)

So if you can read this blog you’re already in the top 1%.

And …. without very, very intensive training (e.g. think US Military level) then it’s very difficult for a non-native speaker to get a “perfect” accent.

Thirdly, there’s no such thing as one single “perfect” English language accent, there are lots of them.

(Not everyone can be lucky enough to come from Yorkshire of course. 🙂 )


Having said that ….

The one single reason we teach children English as early as possible is because it is very easy for them to pick up a perfect accent without any extra work.

Contrary to popular myth, it is actually easier for adults to learn a foreign language.

But … it’s much, much easier to learn a “perfect” accent before the age of around 9 or 10.

The kids just repeat the accents they are given, perfectly.

Which of course means they need to have a “perfect” accent as their model.

And however good your English is,  if you’re a non-native speaker then this probably isn’t your accent.

When I teach ….

I speak fluent Japanese, and I have millions of students using my Japanese learning course,  but I would always use native speaking voices for the input stages of learning.

Why settle for my excellent, but less than perfect, pronunciation when these days it’s so easy to show them perfect models?

Of course 100 years ago this was impossible, hence why most school systems taught using books, IPA etc.

We know what a failure that has often been!

And 10 years ago it was just CDs and videos.

These worked great for very, very keen students.

And many thousands of people learnt amazing English this way.

However in class CDs and videos can often be very linear,  and you need to repeat and repeat and repeat.

So these days it’s much better to use a computer and really focus in on the parts that the kids have trouble hearing.


Need to practice just one word? Hit it as many times as you like!

Just always make sure the words/phrases are recorded ….

1) In real English intonation (e.g. like in a funky, cool cartoon, not “I am ta-lk iiingggg  tooo a  forreeeigggn peeerrsssonn.”)

2) Have different recordings for each word (so your ear doesn’t get bored and begins to think there is only “one way” to say a word.)

3) Has a variety of accents from different native speakers (so the kids can communicate with anyone, not just people from one particular town or country.)

Be Amazing

If you do that, with all the input coming from the computer then the kids will get *amazing* accents.

And from then on if you use slightly less than perfect English youself in the games and things, it doesn’t matter.

The kids might often correct you “Teacher, that’s not right!”  but because they have this really strong base of real English they’ll be really strong speakers,  even if the teacher doesn’t even speak any English at all!

And as I said at the top,  when we look at the great teachers in the world Passion tops everything!

Be genki,


Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

4 Responses to “How important is it to have perfect pronunciation?”

  1. Martin

    I remember selling this part of Genki really hard to my bosses. As you might remember, our primary classes are split between a foreign teacher and a local teacher (and the local teacher is teaching PHONICS and doing all the input of those sounds). When I said that Genki has all these words and different recordings of different foreigners, the bosses then said, “What is the need for a foreign teacher then.” Well besides the great advertising advantage? Of course a knowledgeable foreign teacher will be able to catch mistakes the kids are showing, etc. like you said in your e-mail to me.

    I’m getting more and more comfortable just letting the computer do the input teaching, though I do feel the questioning eyes of my teaching assistant and other locals who think I’m just being lazy or something.

  2. Richard

    Yeah, it’s not native-speakers that people are hiring anymore, they were replaced a long time ago by CDs and the tech.

    What they are hiring is native-listeners, who can listen to the kids and give the correct feedback.

    Plus of the course the near-instant built in grammar checker that native speakers have!

  3. Julia

    Hi guys!

    And I would love to have a foreign speaker in class to let my students communicate with him/her and make it together with them like a part of our real life.

    Just remember what crazy stuff we sometimes say if our pronunciation is wrong! To hear these bloopers and show the importance of right pronunciation (and word choice and grammar, of course) can a native speaker best.

    So, hold on Martin!

  4. Martin

    Yeah, I basically said the whole “native-listener” thing to my bosses just the day before you posted this article. It is a great term as obviously the native speaking part can be replaced by the computer and CDs, etc, but a native listener can catch those mistakes like tone, cadence, pronunciation, and grammar that local teachers often just glaze over. I sometimes have to remind my local teacher to get the kid to clearly speak out because muttering the answer under their breath (even though I know what they are trying to say), isn’t really clear communication.

    On that point, I’ve been playing a lot of Big Karuta to get the kids speaking out and listening to each other to play the game effectively. I had to explain to the local teacher that they shouldn’t shout out the word to the runners because part of the game is listening to the other students for that information.

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