Remember Jimi Hendrix’s lyrics that sounded like “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy,” which actually said “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky?” There are countless songs that we all remember singing the wrong lyrics to, and they were sung in our native language! Misunderstanding song lyrics is similar to what it’s like when you have classes with people from different areas of the world all with different accents: you misunderstand A LOT of what you hear.
So how do you, either as the teacher or the student, deal with having several accents in the ESL classroom?
As the teacher, the most important thing you can do is BE PATIENT! Beginning students, especially, get frustrated when someone doesn’t understand them. It does take practice and time, but eventually you’ll get better at understanding different accents.
Until then, if you don’t understand a student, try asking them to explain what they’re trying to say with different words. Then if you figure out what they were originally trying to say, go back and correct the pronunciation mistake and make sure they can say it correctly. You could also ask them to write out the word or phrase they are attempting to pronounce.
I think it’s a good activity in all classes to take a couple minutes out of every class to review pronunciation for whatever vocabulary comes up, i.e. enough v. tough v. though v. through v. thorough, etc.
As an English student in a class with other students who have different accents, again, be patient. Part of learning a new language is eventually being able to understand different accents. Don’t be frustrated that you can’t understand every accent and every word that people say, even native speakers can’t do that.
Just keep an open mind and focus on the topic that the other students are talking about and try to anticipate what vocabulary the other students are trying to use. With time, practice speaking with many different people, and patience, you’ll be able to understand people from all over the world!