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The Case For The Use Of Ghanaian English Pronunciation (GhE) In English Oral Test For Students In SHS

The topic on the use of Ghanaian English (GhE onwards) as the Standard English in Ghana is of great concern. This paper is about the spoken, rather than the written language mainly because many Ghanaians can write very good English. Ghanaians encounter newsreaders on TV and radio who strive to speak in a British or an American accent. Some Ghanaians who have also travelled to Europe come back feigning an accent close to the RP. The Ghanaian student at the Senior High School (SHS) is therefore left in a state of confusion as to the accent they should speak in formal and informal occasions. This in a way is frustrating when all efforts to speak like a Native English Speaker fail. Students at the SHS receive a final assault when they come face to face with WASSCE Oral Test, which is replete with some pronunciation features that students are not familiar with. It is, therefore, a speculation that the poor attitude of students towards Oral English Test contributes to the low achievement scores of most students in the WASSCE English Language paper. This is because the Oral Test is conducted based on the features of RP. Hence, this opinion paper aims at arguing that Ghanaian students at the SHS deserve to be tested in the accent of the variety of English they hear and speak instead of using the RP model. This is because GhE is a variety of English as an International Language (EIL), majority of teachers in Ghana are Non Native English Speakers, GhE has its unique pronunciation features, the teaching of English in Ghana occurs within the cultural milieu of the country and Ghanaian pronunciations are intelligible to other speakers of English.


The duration of the Oral Test and marks as captured in the English Language WASSCE Syllabus structure are 45 minutes and 30 marks respectively. The focus of the paper is to test a candidate’s knowledge of Oral English. The paper is usually a Listening Comprehension Test. It is made up of 60 multiple-choice objective questions on consonants, consonant clusters, vowels, diphthongs, stress and intonation patterns, dialogues, and narratives. A breakdown of each section is as follows:

Section 1: Test of vowel quality in isolated words

Section 2: Test of word-final voiced-voiceless consonants in isolated words mainly, but other features such as consonant clusters may also be tested

Section 3: Test of vowel quality and consonant contrast in isolated words

Section 4: One of the three alternatives below is used in different years:

(i) Test of vowel and/or consonant contrasts in sentence contexts

(ii) Test of vowel and consonant contrast in isolated words to be selected from a list of at least four-word contrasts

(iii) Test of vowel and consonant contrasts through rhymes

Section 5: Test of rhyme

Section 6: Test of comprehension of emphatic stress

Section 7: Test of understanding of intonation through short dialogues

Section 8: Test of understanding the content of longer dialogues and narratives

To adequately prepare students to pass the Oral Test, in year one, students are introduced to Vowel segments of English, Consonant Segments, Consonant clusters, Mono and Di-syllabic words, and Intonation (Tune 1 and 2). In Year 2, students are introduced to a review of Vowels and Consonants, Syllabic consonants, phonologically conditioned endings: ed- /t, d, id/, es- /s, z, iz/ and Intonation tune 1 and 2 in sentences. In year three, students are supposed to do speechwork review, sentence stress (emphatic and contrastive), weak forms, Linking –r (blending, vowel linkage), and Emphatic intonation (intonation of words in parenthesis) (TSE, 2010). It is a speculation that there is no part in the English Syllabus where it is stated that a teacher must teach pronunciation using a particular variety of English i.e. either the Native RP or GhE. The teachers and students thereby struggle to attain the standard set. Since they are unable to meet the standard, they lose interest in the area. Surprisingly, students giggle and act funny when it comes to lessons on Oral Test simply because they consider the pronunciations as funny and alien. Some even ask questions as to whether their peers will not tease them if they try to speak using the RP.

Sackeyfio (1996) attests to the fact that there exist variations in the accents of Native English speakers. She adds that in London for example, there are regional accents that have been accepted as variants of the Native English speech. The upper-class elite who prefer to speak the Received Pronunciation (RP) which constitute about 3% of the educated British population, however, frown upon these variants. The RP, therefore, is not a regional accent. According to Sackeyfio (1996), the RP was considered as the ideal model during the colonial era with the following properties: it accords prestige on the speaker; it is documented, and represents the broad target for pronunciation lessons. Therefore, many debates have been advanced for the teaching of pronunciation using the RP model or what is called Standard English (SE). In Ghana, the debate on what Ghanaian English (GhE) is and what English Language model should be used to teach the Ghanaian student has led to three clear-cut linguistic camps:

Those educated Ghanaians who do not accept the existence of a local variety.

Those who accept the existence of a local variety, which should be codified and accepted as “Ghanaian Standard”.

Those who support that English should be abandoned and an indigenous Ghanaian language should be selected and used (Gborsong et al, 2014)

Proponents for the use of Native English model to teach students believe that students must learn English based on the Native English Model as quickly as possible to be successful in school and society. It is in line with this that Gborsong et al (2014) attest to the fact that Standard English is spoken with different accents, which reveals the nationalities of the speakers. In their book, they claim that RP is the variety used by BBC and it is the same type that foreign learners are taught. To them, the features of the RP, which are the vowels, diphthongs, and consonant, consonant clusters, consonant elision, assimilation, stress, linking ‘r’ and intrusive ‘r’, and intonation must be transmitted to the Non-Native Speaker (NNS onwards). This according to them is because “pronunciation is the greatest threat to international intelligibility” (Gborsong et al, 2014, p 112). As far as they are concerned, an improved education based on identifying the features of the Standard English has played a role in shaping how other accents are intelligible to a Native Speaker (NS onward). Gborsong et al (2014) assert that British English is the model in most countries that were colonized by the United Kingdom. They argue that the attainment of this model has been hampered in Ghana by several factors some of which are, ill-equipped schools, incompetent local teachers, mother tongue interference and poor models leading to poor pronunciation, just to mention but a few. It is accepted that Non-Native varieties of English such as Ghanaian English, Indian English, and Nigerian English etc exist. However, these varieties are perceived by Gborsong et al (2014) as deviations from the Native form and at the same time considered as innovations. Strangely, these innovations according to Gborsong et al (2014: 114) are considered as “inimical to a living language” mainly because of the fact that a multiplicity of Non-Native forms will lead to a disruption of the general international intelligibility (Gborsong et al, 2014). Gborsong et al (2014) conclude that there are three possibilities for the future of Non Native forms such as GhE: some will toe the line of British English (BrE) or American English (AmE) and enjoy some prestige, some will continue to be entrenched in their undignified Non Native form, and the third group will imbibe BrE and AmE in their variety (Gborsong et al, 2014). According to Sey (1973) cited by Gborsong et al (2014: 123)) “the pronunciation of Educated Ghanaian English (EGE) is markedly different from RP although the latter is supposed to be the model aimed at in schools”. However, Sackeyfio (1996) argues that it is seemingly impossible for a second language learner to acquire perfect RP. The RP should be the Broad Target, which the second language learner must modify to achieve Modified RP. She adds that the teacher should use vowels that are close to the Cardinals, which the teacher uses in his native language mainly because it is easier on the student and quite attainable. She, therefore, argues for the use of an international variant of English because the teacher has no description of Ghanaian English to substitute. In the opinion of Sackeyfio (1996), there is going to be difficulty accepting a local variant of Standard English because of the existence of many tribes that will result in different accents of GhE. She adds that even if there exists a Ghanaian English, educated Ghanaians would not want to learn it because of social pressures that militate against it. The African student according to Sackeyfio (1996) should learn the international variants in order to communicate. This is intriguing because some highly educated Ghanaians such as Kofi Annan; former United Nations Secretary stuck to his Ghanaian accent. It is an undisputed fact that most African students have been unable to attain the RP accent. Gborsong et al (2014) blamed the inability to attain the RP on a number of reasons one of them being local teachers. This implies that most if not almost all Ghanaian teachers do not speak English language using the RP. From the foregoing argument, it means that Ghanaian English teachers are poor models of the English language because of their inability to attain the RP. However, Kiczkowiaki (2014) argued that Native English speaking teachers are not always the best models as indicated by Gborsong et al (2014). Kiczkowiaki (2014) asserts that it is a wrong notion that native speakers of English language make better English language teachers. According to him, non- native teachers can provide clear and intelligible language models. It is, therefore, disturbing for the local teacher to be blamed when according to Sackeyfio (1996) the teacher is the sole determinant in deciding to teach either Ghanaian English or British Standard English. She, however, emphasizes the point that if the teaching of pronunciation must be done, it must be based on the standard accent to attain intelligibility. The foregoing discussion points to the fact that it will be difficult for Ghanaian students to be tested in Oral English based on the RP model simply because the Ghanaian English teachers do not speak English language using the RP. Hence, is imperative that students in Ghana are assessed in Oral English tests using the GhE accent. The discussion below gives reasons for this position.

Reasons why the SHS student must be tested in English Orals using GhE

1. GhE is a variety of English as an International Language (EIL)

Considering the arguments against the use of GhE, I argue that Oral Test must be conducted using GhE accent because Ghanaian English (GhE) is a variety of English as an International Language (EIL) / World English. English as an International Language (EIL) indicates the international use of English instead of the idea of a unique English language. Per the definition by McKay (2002) cited by Seidlhofer (2003), Indian English, Ghanaian English, Nigerian English etc. qualify to be subsumed under EIL and that they belong to Kachru’s Outer Circle. They have been chosen as the option for cross-cultural communication. English internationally include speakers of English as a Native Language (ENL) / English as a Mother Tongue (EMT) in all its dialects (i.e. Kachru’s Inner Circle), as well as speakers of New Englishes/World Englishes/ indigenized/nativized varieties (i.e. Kachru’s Outer Circle). The nativized varieties such as GhE are different from the default conception of a language because of the code and conventions employed by its native speakers. Notwithstanding, Brutt-Griffler according to Seidlhofer (2003: 9) identifies “four central features of the development of global language.”

Econocultural functions of the language

The transcendence of the role of an elite lingua franca;

The stabilization of bilingualism through the coexistence of world language with other languages in bilingual/multilingual contexts.

Language change via the processes of world language convergence and world language divergence.

I speculate that GhE has all of these features outlined above by Brutt-Griffler mainly because when an educated Ghanaian speaks English with a Native English Speaker, they understand one another. People must, therefore, desist from perceiving the varieties of English as an inferior one. Rather, it should be seen as a medium through which EIL spreads all over the world as indicated by Griffler (2002) cited by Seidlhofer (2003). Griffler (2002) therefore acknowledges the role of EIL users as mediums through which the English language is shaped hence the most crucial concern must be to understand how ‘English’ functions in relation to other languages. English is adopted by its users in such a way as to serve its unique function as EIL. EIL, therefore, does not constitute a threat to other languages. There seem to be at least four relevant ways of considering EIL: Functionally, Conceptually, Linguistically, and Pedagogically (Seidlhofer, 2003) and the same can be applied to GhE. Considering what Seidlhofer (2003) says, the status of Ghanaian English as a variety of English in Ghana and Africa as a whole can be investigated to unearth its already existing nature because from the discussion so far, it is true that GhE is part of the cluster of Englishes classified as EIL. However, despite the many studies by researchers, its acceptance as a variety of English is problematic. This is because according to Seidlhofer (2003), the focus is still on BrE and AmE in the European curricular, textbooks and reference materials. In this way, teachers are expected to introduce and teach their learners the pronunciation

used by native speakers in the US and UK (Seidlhofer, 2003). However, Kirkpatrick (2006) believes that intelligibility can still be achieved without necessarily speaking like the native speaker.

  1. Majority of Teachers in Ghana are Non-Native English Speakers

Oral Test must be conducted in GhE because the majority of teachers in our Ghanaian schools are Non-Native English Speakers. Professional teachers are trained by our tertiary institutions to teach at the various levels of education. These teachers are not trained to speak like the native speaker and so they speak the endonormative model, which is a locally grown variety of English. It takes about four years for a child to complete nursery education. It takes another six years to complete basic education. This is followed by three years of junior high school education. From there, the student goes through three years of senior high secondary education. The Ghanaian student, therefore, encounters different Ghanaian teachers for sixteen years who speak GhE but not the exonormative model. People’s speech habits and organs are peculiar to them (Sackeyfio, 1996). If that is so, why should the Ghanaian English teacher be encouraged to teach using Standard English pronunciation as opined by Sey (1973)? Sackeyfio (1996) identifies suprasegmental problems that some Ghanaian English speakers find difficult to overcome. This according to her stems from the fact that most Ghanaians come from a tone language background hence find variations in pitch prominence of English very difficult to understand. Teachers are not exempted from this class of Ghanaians. Okyere (2013) sought to identify consonantal

variations in the way affricates and fricatives are realized that contribute to the unique pronunciations Ghanaians exhibit and describe. A major finding was that all the three educational levels studied were consistent in their realization of other variants of the affricates beside the RP. In addition, out of the nine fricative consonants, five showed variations in their realizations by the respondents. These are /θ/ and /ð/. The researcher identified the fact that the mode of teaching is a causative factor for the way English is spoken in Ghana. Okyere (2013) concluded that the language of the schools is the language of the teacher, which gives uniqueness to the way Ghanaians speak English. This point to the fact that the student speaks the variety of English s/he is exposed to. The student must be tested in the variety of pronunciation they are used to.

  1. GhE has its unique features

To continue, Ghanaian English has its unique pronunciation features hence it should be accepted so that students can be tested in Oral Test using GhE. Investigating Ghanaian English: Spelling Pronunciation in Focus, Ngula (2011) examined the phenomenon of spelling pronunciation in Ghanaian English. The researcher showed that it had become one of the features of pronunciation that had diverged from the standard norm of English language proficiency that is taught to Ghanaians. The data that Ngula (2011) came up with strongly indicated that spelling pronunciation is prevalent among educated Ghanaian users of English. Ngula (2011) concludes that spelling pronunciation is one of the features of pronunciation that is giving Ghanaian English its uniqueness from RP thereby calling for its acceptability as a national language. The implication of this finding is that there is a high chance that the GhE speaker will pronounce a word based on how it has been spelled instead of its actual RP pronunciation. If this is the case, why is it that a student is not tested in Oral English using this feature of pronunciation that is glaring in our educational system? Calling for such a change does not mean students should be encouraged to spell wrongly. Just like how Standard English has some accepted features, the features inherent in GhE pronunciation can be identified which will be internationally accepted. Students, therefore, will be required to go by the standard. Bobda (2000) researched the uniqueness of Ghanaian English pronunciation in West Africa. He sought to indicate drastic differences between the pronunciation of English in Ghana and other West African countries with a similar colonial experience and similar sociological and sociolinguistic backgrounds. Bobda (2000) revealed that the pronunciation of English in Ghana differs from that of the other countries in the West African region that had similar colonial experience and sociological and sociolinguistic backgrounds. Bobda (2000) also revealed that several sound changes have taken place recently, or are in progress, in the direction of the features that make up the distinctiveness of Ghanaian English. Oladipupo (2014) sought to examine aspects of Connected Speech Processes (CSPs), the phenomena that accounted for sound modifications and simplifications in speech. An analysis of the semi-spontaneous speeches of Nigerian English (NigE) speakers revealed that there exist different phonological processes that characterize connected speech in NigE at varying degrees. In conclusion, in an attempt to identify Standard Nigerian

spoken English, Oladipupo’s (2014) study affirms that only the dominant processes can be considered as Standard thereby enforcing the fact that there is a Standard Nigerian English which is in line with Robertson’s (2003) belief that teaching pronunciation must be culture-specific. This work by Oladipupo (2014) indicates that there are processes in every language that can be considered as Standard and these must be identified and codified.

I believe that despite the distinct differences between the pronunciations of Ghanaian English speakers and other West African English speakers, intelligibility is still attained contrary to the assertions of Gborsong et al (2014) that GhE pronunciation is a threat to international intelligibility. Sackeyfio (1996) says Ghanaians do not struggle to understand the other despite the different tribal accents. She adds that Ghanaian accents are well understood by other Ghanaians. This point to the fact that if Oral English Test is conducted in GhE that is using pronunciation and accent peculiar to Ghanaians, it will not necessarily bring about unintelligibility. It is evident that the teaching of an acceptable pronunciation is important. Since the acceptable pronunciation, which the Ghanaian student is trained in is the GhE, the student should be tested in Oral Test using GhE pronunciation.

  1. The teaching of English in Ghana occurs within the cultural milieu of the country

Sackeyfio (1996) emphasizes that children learn their language first by listening to older speakers. The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) aids the learning of every language. The language here refers to the use of sounds or accepted symbols to communicate. The LAD aids the child to identify the patterns of

language and applies them to their daily usage. The child, therefore, tends to speak based on acceptable standards in the society. The style of pronunciation is based on the pronunciation standard already existent in the culture the child finds himself. It is in the light of this, that Robertson (2003) argues that any style of delivery of a pronunciation program must be in synergy with that country’s culture to complement, and not offend, cultural complexities. Robertson (2003) states that the mode of teaching pronunciation must be country specific. He concludes that the area of EFL study must intensify and be country culture-specific, and the field of EFL/ TEFL must be seen as problematic as long as the suggestion is that a particular program is good for all. Hence, the Ghanaian SHS student must be tested in the pronunciation he is familiar with and not what is perceived to be the standard. Besides, the student does not get all the opportunity to learn the correct pronunciation of every word in the world before sitting for the WASSCE Oral Test.

  1. Ghanaian Pronunciation Features are Intelligible to other speakers of English

Munro (2010) argues that intelligibility is a fundamental requirement in human interaction, while the costs of unintelligibility range from minor inconvenience to matters of life or death. Although a focus on intelligibility has important repercussions for language teaching, social interaction, identity, and even human rights, defining the concept and determining its underpinnings have posed major challenges for researchers. To Munro (2011) there is the need for any speech to be intelligible and that certain L2 prosodic difficulties undermine intelligibility, as demonstrated by Hahn’s (2004) examination of primary (nuclear) stress. Ghanaian spoken English is largely appreciable to the Native English speaker. Halm & Watts (2010) used unintelligibility tales to identify causes of wrong utterances and their repairs. They reported on the kinds of phonological features involved in the miscues in particular exchanges, the kinds of repair strategies used, and whether and how participants used context to help them interpret the utterance. For miscommunication to occur, they posit, there is an original unintelligible utterance. To repair the miscommunication problem, the utterance must be recognized by both the speaker and the listener. Phonological features of mispronunciation according to them usually cause the misunderstanding. In other cases, it seems more likely that the misunderstanding was due to a mishearing (perhaps due to lack of schema, or lack of attention, on the part of the listener). The above means that the usage of GhE pronunciation must be done with recourse to Jenkin’s pronunciation features known as Lingua Franca Core and Non- Lingua Franca Core. The Lingua Franca Non-Core features are represented in the Oral Test. Students are tested in the fricative sounds, intonation, vowel quality, and final consonant clusters which are considered as non – core. Despite the lack of the realization of the Lingua Franca Core and Lingua Franca Non – Core by some GhE speakers, other speakers of the Standard English comprehends whatever is being communicated. As such, the student must be tested more in the Lingua Franca Core Features instead of the Lingua Franca Non- Core since it will not inhibit intelligibility. Since GhE pronunciation is intelligible to other speakers of English, the student should not be bothered with Oral Tests whose pronunciations are based on the Native Speaker Model.


Proponents against the use of GhE pronunciation argue that any pronunciation that must be taught should be based on the RP model. That is the reason why students at the SHS are tested using pronunciation features that are mostly based on the RP. I, however, argue that during WASSCE Oral Test, students should be tested using GhE pronunciation because GhE is a variety of English as an International Language (EIL). In addition, majority of teachers in Ghana are Non Native English Speakers. Again, GhE has its unique pronunciation features. Furthermore, the teaching of English in Ghana occurs within the cultural milieu of the country. Finally, Ghanaian pronunciations are intelligible to other speakers of English. Apart from these, the focus on pronunciation of vowels and consonants in isolated words, rhyme in isolated words, and stress in isolated words should be scrapped. Rather it should be done using dialogue similar to Test 7 and 8 of the same Oral Test. The focus should be on the use of dialogues since we do not speak in vowels and consonants. We string our words together in contexts. Perhaps, the Oral Test has lost touch with modern times so it should be revised and repackaged to suit modern trends. This I believe will motivate students to learn Oral English knowing that the pronunciation standard set for them is attainable and very familiar to them in the Ghanaian context.

**All references acknowledged



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