Teaching standard variants of Spanish

Carlos Muñoz of the Institut Libre Marie Haps in Brussels laments (a) the decline in prestige and airtime within Spain suffered by the standard, educated, Madrilenian accent of Spanish, and (b) the lack of phonetic consistency exhibited by model speakers of the more specifically regional accents which have to a certain extent replaced it. He is formidably mistaken in his belief that the BBC continues to maintain one target pronunciation model in its news and entertainment broadcasting, but he is right to point to the challenge that this fragmentation presents to teachers of Spanish as a foreign language (ELE). His insistence that learners should not be exposed to and encouraged to understand non-target variants is absurd, but, speaking as someone without the slightest practical interest in language teaching, I think it makes sense to try to get students to acquire one particular standard. The question is which and how.

Ever a free-market nostalgist, I tend to figure that if learners don’t acquire something like a phonetically coherent version of the prestigious variant in whichever market they want to work, then they’ll tell other learners to avoid whichever school taught them, and those schools will either adapt or die. The problem in Spain is that public services are by and large immune to such market pressures and, supported by protectionist regional elites, dedicate themselves to promoting non-standard accents and dialects/languages, which in some cases are invented for the purpose, and which may be of absolutely no use half an hour’s drive from the regional centre. My (free market) vision of the future is that after Spain collapses in poverty and confusion Network Mexican will sweep all before it and become the new standard, but don’t wait up.

Just in: news of a campaign to have {kincón (n): someone seized by an impossible love} included in the RAE dictionary. Sounds too much like a giant Dick Cheney puppet to me. What’s wrong with kinkón?

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