In the last two posts, we (the editors) introduced ourselves and let you eavesdrop on one of our conversations. But enough about us! We’d like to hear from you. The big question I’m wrestling with today is:
In a college accents course, how many accents should be covered, and which ones?
Here’s a little more background…
At the end of last term, I asked the students enrolled in my accents class what about the course was useful and what needed work. Everyone agreed that oral posture was a revelation and super-useful. Many were frustrated by the phonetics– as was I! (In my first semester at a new school, my upper-division students still have limited phonetic training. For now, we just had to do the best we could in terms of specificity.)
I also inherited a course description, and knowing very little about my student population going into the course and having limited time to do a bunch of brand-new accent breakdowns, I used the “generic” accents that had been included in previous semesters: RP, Cockney, American Southern (whatever monolithic thing that could possibly be), Ireland (again…), Brooklyn (pickin up on a pattern here?…), and German. We did end with individual accent research projects based on type or heritage, so that was a win in terms of customization.
So here’s my curiosity: is covering a lot of ground— painting with broad strokes as it were, gaining familiarity with the repetition of a process and practicing bravery through diving in over and over– worth the losses we incurred in terms of rigor and specificity? Considering the students are not prepared to tackle detailed phonetic work at this point, I was mainly concerned with giving them lots of opportunity to try accents out without fear of failure. I’m happy with that decision, but going forward, I’ll have to find ways to add rigor without losing delight. Fewer accents, probably, with a selection of accents that is generated in-class by the students themselves based on their needs and interests. They loved the idea of picking the accents themselves. At the same time, they want more “play” time– the kind of improv and skills-challenging stuff Phil calls “Reindeer Games”– how to fit it all in?
So…Teachers: how do you wrestle with this issue?
Actors: what do you consider indispensable from your accent training?
Coaches: what do you wish your clients had picked up in school, if they went through an actor training program?
We’d love to dive even deeper into this topic with you, so give us your feedback and help us shape the conversation to come! We can’t wait to hear your thoughts!