Accommodating Accents & Dialects through a Constrastive Approach David Hyatt and Robin Bone


  • Where teachers had been criticized by Ofsted for not providing ‘good’ models of spoken English.
  • To help children understand, value and be confident of their own accents (and dialects).
  • To give schools an authoritative voice to speak back to such critiques.
  • Demonstrating discourse attuning as a useful social practice.

Accomodation Theories (Giles and Ogay 2007)


  • Humans are social – we like to converge with those we like/ evaluate positively!
  • Discourse attuning (Coupland 2010) – regulating how interpretable our talk is for our audience:
  • Overaccommodating: talking loudly to foreigners; talking loudly or using ‘secondary baby-talk’ to elderly people in residential care homes.
  • Underaccommodating: younger adults/teens using topics that exclude older adults or laughing at their lack ofunderstanding of neologism
Some potential strategies for teachers


  • Initiate conversations about how people speak differently in diverse settings – explain how and when certain language usage is or is not appropriate.
  • Make sure students understand how certain contexts require code-switching /discourse attuning and demonstrate this – the way we respond to a friend’s question might be completely different than how we would answer the headteacher or the inspector’s queries.
  • Affirm for students that their language/dialect/accent is viable and valuable.



  • Engage students in a role-playing activities where they imitate different people they know within their community – then get students to examine the differences in the way these people speak and why.
  • Introduce dialectical language through literature. Culturally rich literature is available at every grade level.
  • Make sure students understand that you understand and value the historical importance of their modes of talk.
  • Introduce culturally reflective classroom work with a focus on diversity e.g. ask students to give a positive talk on someone in their community in the dialect/language/ accent of that person.
Rebecca Wheeler and Rachel Swords (2010) contend that the correctionist approach to language labels the child’s home speech as ‘poor English’ or ‘bad grammar,’ finding that the child who use non-standard varieties ‘has problems’. The correctionist model pathologises diversity, assuming that “Standard English” is the only proper form of language and tries to do away with the child’s home language. Because classrooms are not culturally or linguistically monolithic, this approach tends to exclude those students who are not fluent in “Standard English.”


The contrastivist approach affirms that language comes in diverse varieties. This linguistically-informed model

recognizes that the student’s home language is not any more deficient in structure than the school language. In this approach, teachers help children become explicitly aware of the grammatical differences between the formal “Standard English” and the informal home language. Children can then learn to code-switch/attune their discourse between the language of the home and the language of the school as appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose. When a teacher helps a student to code-switch/attune their discourse, the student becomes explicitly aware of how to select the appropriate language to use in the given context.