The Rise of British Accent Classes in Nigeria

In Nigeria, there is a growing trend of individuals taking extra classes to learn to speak with a polished British accent. While many Nigerians already speak English fluently, some see speaking with a British accent as a way to appear refined and classy. The demand for these classes has increased during the long school vacation, as the children of Abuja’s elite, who usually attend the classes, are on holiday. As a result, tutors like Elizabeth Stephens are now offering Zoom classes for adults who want to “correct” their accent and speak like the British.

Nigeria is a multilingual country, with English being a second language for many Nigerians. This linguistic diversity often influences how English is spoken in the country, giving rise to unique pronunciations and speech patterns. Students like Sunday Israel believe that learning a British accent will help bridge the gap between their Nigerian accent and the “refined” British accent. They hope that by improving their pronunciation and intonation, they will sound more like native British speakers.

However, some linguists argue that learning an accent in a classroom setting is challenging. Language, they say, is something that people acquire through social interactions and everyday conversations. Linguist Dr Kingsley Ugwuanyi believes that an accent is deeply tied to one’s identity and that trying to speak like someone else can lead to an identity crisis. He suggests that individuals should embrace their Nigerian accents rather than striving to imitate British speech patterns.

On the other hand, phonetics teachers like Judith Onwuzurike argue that making an effort to improve pronunciation is a sign of respect. She believes that speaking with a British accent shows a level of sophistication and is highly valued by the rich and influential in Nigerian society. Many politicians and top civil servants in Abuja send their children to prestigious private schools that prioritize a British-style education, including learning how to speak with a British accent. However, the increasing number of diction teachers has made it a less lucrative profession.

For individuals like Elizabeth Stephens, teaching diction classes is just one of the many jobs they take on to make a living. Stephens, who has never been to the UK, considers herself an expert in the British accent, which she learned at a language school and through online videos. She acknowledges that parents want their children to speak like the British because it gives them a sense of pride, as they frequently travel abroad.

It is important to note that Nigerian English is a unique and evolving language. Over the years, it has developed its own vocabulary and expressions, with some Nigerian-English words making their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr Ugwuanyi believes that Nigerian English is a fully formed language and questions the necessity of learning a British accent when there is already mutual intelligibility between Nigerian and American English.

Ultimately, the choice to learn a British accent is a personal one. While some individuals see it as a way to enhance their communication skills and social standing, others argue that it is important to embrace and celebrate the diversity of Nigerian English. Language, after all, is a reflection of culture and identity, and preserving linguistic diversity can contribute to a more inclusive and culturally rich society.

In conclusion, the rise of British accent classes in Nigeria reflects the aspirations of some individuals to speak with a refined and classy accent. However, the impact of these classes on Nigerian society remains to be seen. It is crucial to approach the topic with sensitivity, recognizing that language is deeply tied to identity and that embracing linguistic diversity can be a valuable asset for a culturally diverse nation like Nigeria.