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RhodaDEttore

Mouth Structure and Language

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I have a French teacher who speaks four languages. She told me that some people cannot pronounce or enunciate correctly due to their mouth structure. For example, if you are of Russian or German decent, your mouth is shaped for proper formation of guttural type of sounds. Therefore, it may be harder for a person of that decent to speak one of the more flowing languages such as French or Spanish... and vice versa.

Do you think this is a valid point? Have you experienced languages you just cannot pronounce and believe it could just be a physical structure?

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While I agree that it's hard for people to adapt to a different accent, I don;t think that our mouths are shaped for any particular type of sound. I have been living in Delhi since my childhood, but I have never made a mistake in pronouncing anything. I come from Bihar, a backward state in India where it's impossible for people to even try to imite the accent of Delhi. But I can naturally speak it as I have been living here for as long as I remember.

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Yes, I do agree with your teacher. If you are not a native speaker of the language there is no way you can perfectly pronounce words like the natives. This is why for example, non Spanish native have a problem with sounding 'r' the way natives do.

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I think your French teacher has made a valid point.  Mouth structure is part of the vocal organs that it can affect how the sound is delivered.  I have difficulty in rolling my tongue therefore it is not easy for me to pronounce rolling tongue of sounds properly.

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I don't agree with this. I live in a Latin American country, and "rolling the r's" is as difficult for us as for anyone else. However, since kids are practicing it since pre-school, they all end up learning very early in life. I, on the other hand, learned how to roll the r's properly on my mid 20s.

I don't think it's a mouth structure thing related to your descent. While I'm sure different people have different mouth structures, I think it's more related to practice. Since you practice your native tongue since you're very young, you get accustomed to a certain pronunciation. When presented with a different pronunciation later in life, it's going to take some time to adapt.

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I've never heard of this before.  I think that it is more based on practice.  There are some people who with lots of practice and living in the area are able to learn to speak so that they are indistinguishable from a native speaker.  I think it depends more on the individual as well as practice.

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It could be true. However, I believe that any language can be learned although it can be challenging due to our native dialects and languages. I live in the Philippines and we have more than a hundred native language spoken in the country. I am in Iriga which is a town in Bicol and Bicol is a province, the people in Naga City which is about an hour drive from Iriga, speaks a different language even if we are in the same province. Our native language is Rinconada and their native language is Bicol langauge. I can understand some sentences but not every word and I cannot speak their language even if I understand them somehow and they too understand our language but just like us, not every word. We have to figure out the meaning by relating to other words in the sentence and sometimes if the meaning is too deep, we don't understand at all so we ask each other what it means. Some people can speak and understand both language, mostly those who stayed in both places in a period of time or if they have friends or family/relatives who speaks the language. Another factor is the intonation, some languages have intonations that are hard to understand. So I guess the only way to understand and speak a language is by exposure to that particualr language and by practicing to speak it. Mouth structure could be one factor but also there are other factors affecting languages.

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I definitely buy into this theory. As a southerner, I don't think my mouth is structured to speak a lot of different languages. My mouth is "lazy", if a mouth can be such a thing. What I mean by that is that I speak rather slowly, so at times it's hard for me to speak at the speed necessary to correctly speak some words in Spanish and other languages. It's a daily process that I am slowly improving at and working on.

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I don't agree with your teacher, because over here you can be trained on how to sound American by attending those call center training classes. You will be trained to speak English using an American accent, so I think mouth structure has nothing to do with it, it's more on immersion, environment, and attending special language or accent classes.

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I somewhat agree. I think people's physical makeup contribute a bit to their ability to pronounce certain things and how they sound, which is why sometimes you could tell what the person's race is just by hearing their voice and pronunciation even if they all grew up in the same place. I don't think it's a major contributor though as I think your environment still makes for a lot more of how you end up speaking as an adult.

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I would have to agree that mouth structure has to do with language. If you watch a lot of television from different parts of the world and contains various languages, then you would agree with this ideology. It is something critical to enunciating and pronouncing certain words. I think that i would find it hard to speak certain languages because of my mouth shape. Its an interesting ideology that you would not easily pick out.

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I agree with the teacher that the sound or word would be harder to pronounce for a person of those descents. However, I wouldn't call it impossible based on their mouth structures alone; it's just more difficult for them to learn the word or sound than someone whom is not of either of these descents. That goes vice-versa for other descents too that are trying to speak the opposing language.

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While it may be harder for that person, I don't think it's impossible. All you have to do is exercise your mouth to form the words correctly. Practicing everyday with something simple, like the vowels or alphabet, makes it easier to pronounce the language. That was one of the few things that my Japanese teacher told me when we opened out to a new lesson. So, to me, that makes sense! After all, practice makes perfect if you're tackling a new language.

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I tend to disagree with your teacher. I have been successfully teaching Spanish speakers how to pronounce English properly by explaining to them where to place their tongue and how to shape their mouth when saying certain words. Naturally, it takes a while, and some are more "talented" than others, but in most cases my students get it quickly, as they love watching me stick my tongue out and making funny faces. :)

So, I would say it's not about the structure of the mouth, but rather the way how you move your mouth and tongue.

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I have not heard about this before, I came from a tribe that struggles pronouncing letters with L or R. We all have a similar way of pronouncing most words. Now I know that the shape of my mouth may be making it difficult for me to pronounce some words in the foreign language I desire to master.

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I think it s possible. There are some sounds that I just can not pronounce. It is like my mouth doesn't have the space or I do not understand how tongue placement works for certain words. It could be that wider jaws produce different sounds. It sounds about right.

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I have to disagree. If this were the case then people brought up in children of immigrants to other countries would have noticeable accents even if they are brought up speaking the language from birth. Surely the USA and other multi-ethnic countries prove this not to be the case? There are people descended from just about every nationality in the world living in the states with no discernible accent whatsoever, if there were physical differences in their mouths this would be noticeable in the way they spoke English.

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Thanks for sharing this, I do think it is very much possible as this may be my problem too. I am a native English speaker but I had a hard time learning Spanish pronunciations as I could not roll the R's etc. Then I decided to do French as I wouldn't have the R's to deal with, then to my surprise I am still having a great challenge saying words such as "lettre" no matter how much I try to practice.

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Oh. I think she has a point there. That's why it is difficult for other nationalities to speak other languages well because of this mouth structure rationale. Like for me, I think my language is a bit soft to speak. We have a sing-song intonation. Thus, I find it hard to pronounce some Arabic words because you have to say them hard. There are sounds that you have to speak firmly or harshly. When they talk, they seem to be fighting, but they aren't. In fact, they are engaged in a cheerful discussion. :-)

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I never really considered this before, but it does make a lot of sense. People tend to talk different ways dependent upon how bug or small their mouths are and so I am sure the same would go when pronouncing words in a different language. This is very insightful and makes me understand why I can't pronounce some Spanish words correctly.

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Yeah, my friend's speech therapist said the same thing.  The structure of the mouth, especially the palate, has a significant effect on the way we form sounds and pronounce words.  It's not just about knowing how to pronounce something.  However, I also think that with enough practice or training, this can be resolved and people can eventually learn how to adapt to certain languages.  Maybe there will just be more effort needed in training for those who are not biologically predisposed to say a certain type of language.

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I'm of German and French decent, and I find it easy to learn German, French, and Spanish. My native language is hard for me, and I always have a slight French accent when speaking. I think your teacher has a valid point, as my Hispanic friends can't speak German well, but are killer at fence and Spanish. 

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