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Speaking a foreign language in your own accent: Right or Wrong?


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I often hear people speaking foreign languages in their own accents, with a lot of them not even attempting to get the accent right. I know we can't always get the foreign accent spot on, and our own native language will influence the way we pronounce other languages. But I feel that it's important to at least try to move away from your own accent and speak a foreign language how it's spoken by the natives as much as is possible. In my opinion, it goes a long way in helping the natives speakers understand you better, among other things.

I welcome any thoughts on this. TIA :)

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I think this somewhat depends on the languages. Languages are a tool to help people communicate, that's all. You don't have to speak like a native in order to get your point across. However, when you're not even bothering AND it starts to get confusing, THEN you should probably try to improve.

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I really appreciate hearing your perspective. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. The local language where I am currently living is very difficult. And the 2nd language of the country is also not my native language. So i struggle with accent. Either the native user uses a local dialect, the official accent, or they may have been schooled in the 2nd language and their accent has been affected. Yet, they seem very strict with me on how I speak - even correcting how I say my own name. This is hard for me at times because when they speak to me in my native tongue, if the meaning is correct and understandable then I believe it is accurately said. Of course, we should all try to speak with the accent of the language but one native user of the countries 2nd language recently said to me, 'You will never be able to loose your accent, so do not make that your main focus'. In some ways, this gave me some encouragement to keep going. That being said, there are those whose accent is obviously very strong and others who have worked harder at it. I want to be one of the latter but I still maintain that native users need to know the difference between speaking the language with an accent and speaking the language incorrectly. It is not always the same thing in my opinion.

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Sometimes isn't that you don't try... most of the time is because you just CAN'T. I am a good example of that. I always try to make my english sound as neutral as possible, but my accent always is the same. 

I don't know how it's possible!  I have heard myself in recordings and videos and wow it's been a revelation!  I could swear my accent was good, not very American, but at least neutral. But once I heard it I realized it wasn't.  Believe me, isn't always about not trying... it's just it's hard to imitate sounds you are not familiar with, because every language requires you to move your tongue in different ways in order to get specific sounds. 

The tongue is a muscle and once is trained to do a specific set of movements everyday it can be so hard to add new ones... I know by experience.  There are sounds in dutch i just can't get right, specially in long words.  Let alone sound dutch! I'll always have an accent... I'm pretty aware of that and honestly dread it, because I know a lot people will make a lot assumptions as soon as I utter the first few words.  Not cool in that specific country (the country i am talking about ha such a bad rep in terms of tolerance).

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Ideally it IS better to lose your accent and adapt the accent of the foreign language.

But I don't think this is an issue of being Right or Wrong; but rather more of are you getting your message delivered? If you end up confusing your listener in an attempt to master an accent; then you're really not communicating effectively. You are better off sticking with your accent. In learning a language, I think the accent should be the least of priorities. Being able to speak fluently and understand completely the foreign language should be the end goal, and not accent acquisition.

As Trellum pointed out; our tongues are muscles and they might take a while to train them. If one obsess on acquiring the accent; one might only end up frustrated and give up on learning the foreign language altogether. Doing so is truly a shame.

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I prefer to maintain a neutral accent when trying to speak a foreign language.  Whenever I speak in Nihongo, for instance, I will always try to avoid bringing my accent out of respect.  But admittedly, even if I try to keep my accent to a minimum, it can still be heard while I am doing a sample recording of my own voice.  I tried speaking in Nihongo through Skype's call testing service, and quite frankly, my accent can still be heard.

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I think if the person is already too old to be "malleable" to change their accent, then I think they will always have their native accent apparent whenever they try to speak English. Because I have heard a lot of Indians who speak English very fluently, but their accent is still really thick and apparent.

The case would be different if the person learned the foreign language at a very young age, because the accent can easily be learned when the kid is around 10 years old or below through immersion.

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I think this somewhat depends on the languages. Languages are a tool to help people communicate, that's all. You don't have to speak like a native in order to get your point across. However, when you're not even bothering AND it starts to get confusing, THEN you should probably try to improve.

That's exactly what I mean! I know that our native tongues will obviously influence our pronunciation, and we'll struggle to speak exactly how the natives speak their language; but some people just don't even bother. It can even sound like they are actually speaking their own language. I find it very frustrating!

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I really appreciate hearing your perspective. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. The local language where I am currently living is very difficult. And the 2nd language of the country is also not my native language. So i struggle with accent. Either the native user uses a local dialect, the official accent, or they may have been schooled in the 2nd language and their accent has been affected. Yet, they seem very strict with me on how I speak - even correcting how I say my own name. This is hard for me at times because when they speak to me in my native tongue, if the meaning is correct and understandable then I believe it is accurately said. Of course, we should all try to speak with the accent of the language but one native user of the countries 2nd language recently said to me, 'You will never be able to loose your accent, so do not make that your main focus'. In some ways, this gave me some encouragement to keep going. That being said, there are those whose accent is obviously very strong and others who have worked harder at it. I want to be one of the latter but I still maintain that native users need to know the difference between speaking the language with an accent and speaking the language incorrectly. It is not always the same thing in my opinion.

You make some very valid points. It'd be interesting to know where you're based because they seem to be a lot harder on you than most. You need assurance rather than to be made to feel you're wrong all the time! That's probably going to give you a complex!

I have an accent, most of us do. All I'm saying is, some people seem to not even bother at all. I too would like to be in the category of people with accents, but who at least try hard. I mean, picture this; someone with an American accent speaking Italian with a totally American accent (just an example, of course). I just think we all ought to put in more effort, as difficult as it is :)

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Sometimes isn't that you don't try... most of the time is because you just CAN'T. I am a good example of that. I always try to make my english sound as neutral as possible, but my accent always is the same. 

I don't know how it's possible!  I have heard myself in recordings and videos and wow it's been a revelation!  I could swear my accent was good, not very American, but at least neutral. But once I heard it I realized it wasn't.  Believe me, isn't always about not trying... it's just it's hard to imitate sounds you are not familiar with, because every language requires you to move your tongue in different ways in order to get specific sounds. 

The tongue is a muscle and once is trained to do a specific set of movements everyday it can be so hard to add new ones... I know by experience.  There are sounds in dutch i just can't get right, specially in long words.  Let alone sound dutch! I'll always have an accent... I'm pretty aware of that and honestly dread it, because I know a lot people will make a lot assumptions as soon as I utter the first few words.  Not cool in that specific country (the country i am talking about ha such a bad rep in terms of tolerance).

Trellum, you made me laugh because I can totally relate to everything you're saying! I fall into that category too, I have an accent that's not easy to lose. I too have listened back to my voice recording and thought wow, I didn't think it was that strong! Nonetheless, I do try.

But I'm not joking, I've heard people who don't try one little bit, a lot of them are in my country. For instance, I feel that most of it comes from the men, it's almost like they have to show they're proud Africans by overemphasising the African accent. Some of these people used to speak with a more neutral accent, and as they've got older, their accent has progressively got  more and more African. Sometimes it's even an accent that's nothing like the Botswana accent, but rather a West African; two very distinct accents! Clearly these people are very skilled at manipulating their accents lol

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Ideally it IS better to lose your accent and adapt the accent of the foreign language.

But I don't think this is an issue of being Right or Wrong; but rather more of are you getting your message delivered? If you end up confusing your listener in an attempt to master an accent; then you're really not communicating effectively. You are better off sticking with your accent. In learning a language, I think the accent should be the least of priorities. Being able to speak fluently and understand completely the foreign language should be the end goal, and not accent acquisition.

As Trellum pointed out; our tongues are muscles and they might take a while to train them. If one obsess on acquiring the accent; one might only end up frustrated and give up on learning the foreign language altogether. Doing so is truly a shame.

I totally get you takibari I have to say it may not be easy or possible in the first instance, in the early stages of language learning. I would also focus mainly on the acquisition of the the language skills to start with, and then over time (especially as you gain confidence), I still feel you need to at least try to phrase and pronounce foreign words how they're meant to be. -rather than not try at all. -or worse still, even going out of your way to distort the way you speak (please see my response to Trellum)

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I prefer to maintain a neutral accent when trying to speak a foreign language.  Whenever I speak in Nihongo, for instance, I will always try to avoid bringing my accent out of respect.  But admittedly, even if I try to keep my accent to a minimum, it can still be heard while I am doing a sample recording of my own voice.  I tried speaking in Nihongo through Skype's call testing service, and quite frankly, my accent can still be heard.

But that's exactly my point, the key being trying, because I'm sure nobody would blame you for not losing your accent. Our accents are here to stay and will always come through, that's fact!

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I totally get you takibari I have to say it may not be easy or possible in the first instance, in the early stages of language learning. I would also focus mainly on the acquisition of the the language skills to start with, and then over time (especially as you gain confidence), I still feel you need to at least try to phrase and pronounce foreign words how they're meant to be. -rather than not try at all. -or worse still, even going out of your way to distort the way you speak (please see my response to Trellum)

Hi, lushlala! Wow, there are people who deliberately distort the way they speak?? That's some kind of weird, don't you think? I mean why try to distort your manner of speaking?[i'm totally thinking of kidnappers calling for ransom - that's the only instance I know that the speaking voice is distorted (haha! i'm going off topic). Anyhow, you're truly right. Over the course of your learning, there has to be a point where you try to achieve the foreign accent - as you said; especially once you're confident and more importantly because certain words have to be  spoken a particular way.

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Hi, lushlala! Wow, there are people who deliberately distort the way they speak?? That's some kind of weird, don't you think? I mean why try to distort your manner of speaking?[i'm totally thinking of kidnappers calling for ransom - that's the only instance I know that the speaking voice is distorted (haha! i'm going off topic). Anyhow, you're truly right. Over the course of your learning, there has to be a point where you try to achieve the foreign accent - as you said; especially once you're confident and more importantly because certain words have to be  spoken a particular way.

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I think it's mostly good to put in effort so most of the locals can understand you better, but I don't see it as that much of a requirement. Personally, I prefer to hear people just speaking as naturally as they can, since whenever I hear them forcing themselves to adopt a different accent it just comes off as ingenuine or trying too hard. I think a good mix of both would be optimal.

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Although it may take a while to master, developing an accent may take a while but it makes perfect sense to develop it. Speaking in an accent makes it easier for the person being spoken to to understand what you're trying to get across. So i believe it's best to fake it until you make it!

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I think if the person is already too old to be "malleable" to change their accent, then I think they will always have their native accent apparent whenever they try to speak English. Because I have heard a lot of Indians who speak English very fluently, but their accent is still really thick and apparent.

The case would be different if the person learned the foreign language at a very young age, because the accent can easily be learned when the kid is around 10 years old or below through immersion.

I know what you mean, Sidney. However, what do you make of people whose accent is neutral anyway, they went to private schools, they once spoke in a posh English/American/neutral accent, and suddenly they have this affected heavy accent that they didn't have before. What do you think of those ones?

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Ideally it IS better to lose your accent and adapt the accent of the foreign language.

But I don't think this is an issue of being Right or Wrong; but rather more of are you getting your message delivered? If you end up confusing your listener in an attempt to master an accent; then you're really not communicating effectively. You are better off sticking with your accent. In learning a language, I think the accent should be the least of priorities. Being able to speak fluently and understand completely the foreign language should be the end goal, and not accent acquisition.

As Trellum pointed out; our tongues are muscles and they might take a while to train them. If one obsess on acquiring the accent; one might only end up frustrated and give up on learning the foreign language altogether. Doing so is truly a shame.

I completely agree with you on this one! Acquiring a foreign languages accent really shouldn't be a primary goal or even a goal at all if you can articulate well and are able to converse with the native speaker of that particular language with ease!

Of course as most of the other posters pointed out, if your own accent if overbearing even when you are speaking in the foreign language then you ought to most definitely try your very best to adopt that particular foreign language's accent. I think that it's always nice to keep your own accent and be able to speak to native speakers and understand one another.... I say this because honestly speaking, learning a new language is difficult already without trying to imitate accents on top of that!

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It could be very difficult for someone to learn an accent or break one that they great up with. That takes a lot of work and conditioning.  A person might not be able to help it of they speak a foreign language in their native accent.

I think there's a little misunderstanding here. The idea is not for people to change their accent in order to sound like a native speaker, that is near impossible. I'm talking about people who don't bother to phrase words right, mainly. People who you can obviously tell are just NOT bothered. OR worse still, those who deliberately distort their own accent to sound a certain way, for instance; more African. Those are the situations I was referring to.

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this is really interesting question, as I have the same discussion with my friends all the time,

Im a spanish native speaker, but I also speak english really well, I think my accent its good, but some people can still notice its not youre native language, which is completly normal!

Never forget your roots!

I love teaching and I love accents!

:kiss:

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Well, I have never met a person who spoke English with an American accent and accents are extremely hard to shake. My parents are both from the Midwest and even though I lived there a very short time, I still say some words with a Midwestern accent. When I try not to, it just sounds and feels very awkward. When I try speaking languages with the native accent, it feels more like I am mocking the language. I think the only time accent is super important is when the accent changes the meaning or pronunciation, like with Spanish rrrs.

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Speaking a foreign language in that same accent is never easy, especially when it is a totally new language. I think most people will make an effort but if it is not for important reasons they won't make it a standard. It does sound more fluent and gives you a sense of achieving though so those who don't try should really make more effort to.

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this is really interesting question, as I have the same discussion with my friends all the time,

Im a spanish native speaker, but I also speak english really well, I think my accent its good, but some people can still notice its not youre native language, which is completly normal!

Never forget your roots!

I love teaching and I love accents!

:kiss:

Hehe I love teaching and I love accents, too LOL

Lest we get the wrong idea, I wasn't suggesting people shed their accents altogether :) I speak English and have spoken it for most of my life, I lived in England for 13 years and recently returned to Botswana (my home country). I still have my accent, but I make an effort to pronounce words how they are meant to be pronounced whether I'm speaking English or wobbling my way through French or Italian :)

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Speaking a foreign language in that same accent is never easy, especially when it is a totally new language. I think most people will make an effort but if it is not for important reasons they won't make it a standard. It does sound more fluent and gives you a sense of achieving though so those who don't try should really make more effort to.

It is exactly for that reason that people have to make an effort. I have my accent that's unique to my country, I'm never going to get rid of it, and I have no intention of doing so. But I've seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears where a fellow countryman is talking to a native English speaker and if words aren't pronounced how they should be, it can distort the meaning and cause confusion.

Examples:

some people don't distinguish between

burger/beggar

sleep/slip

bird/bed

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