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


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My GF is tutoring me in Spanish and she alternates between laughing at my accent and deriding me for how strong of an influence it is on my speaking :(. I think most people would find it really weird, but eh... speaking with a weird accent is better than not being able to speak at all!

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Hehe I know it's easy to laugh at people getting things wrong, but you're right; it's better to speak a little than nothing at all. All the best learning Spanish. I've heard a new language is best learnt through a significant other ;)

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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.

I agree with this post. If your accent affects the words too much its unrecognizable then it is time to change your way.

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I think it's kind of rude if you don't even TRY to speak a language with the proper accent. It's fine if you are just learning a language, and you haven't mastered it yet, or you have trouble making the sounds or whatever, that's understandable. But I think it's always right to try your best :)

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I think it's kind of rude if you don't even TRY to speak a language with the proper accent. It's fine if you are just learning a language, and you haven't mastered it yet, or you have trouble making the sounds or whatever, that's understandable. But I think it's always right to try your best :)

Thank you and to ProNine too for getting it. I wasn't in any way suggesting that people change their accents beyond recognition, but rather that they TRY to pronounce words as they're meant to be because mispronunciation can often distort the meaning and cause confusion.

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  • 6 months later...

I think it's very difficult to lose our own accent, and i don't think it's so necessary. Personally i like more when people speak english with a french, spanish or other accents! I find it more interesting and original.

Btw the problem is when people pronounce a word from another language totally wrong, or maybe they exaggerate with saying a word in their own accent. For example in english the letter R is "sweet", in Italian the same letter is more "hard" and strong, so it would be really awkward if i say a word like "right" accentuating the R (i hope you understand what i mean). It is really terrible, and some italians do this :S 

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I would hate to be an accent coach because I get frustrated that many people aren't willing to try something different. They listen to a sound, try to repeat it, and notice that they're not even close. They do it again, and sound exactly the same as the previous attempt. It doesn't occur to them that they need to try something different to get a different result, even if you explain it to them; they just keep making the same sound over and over again. People who have good accents are those who are willing to adjust their attempts. It's about being open minded, and has nothing to do with "not being flexible because of age" as one poster put it.

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I don't think speaking with your own accent is "wrong", but I think I prefer to get as close to the native pronounciation as I can. I know it's hard to speak unaccented when you're learning a new language, but with practice, I think it's possible to get better (up to the point where it's not obvious). 

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That is easier said then done. It's not to say that most people that learn a language don't try but not everyone has the same linguistic ability.

 

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

I have encountered this as well. It can be comical at times, but I think it really comes down to the context of the conversation. This is the great problem of learning the language phonetically and not seeing how the words are supposed to be pronounced. 

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If you're going to learn a language well, you need to be able to speak it without your native accent. It's difficult to really lose your native accent but it can be done. I managed it and managed to teach a lot of my students to do it as well. 

Try this: If you speak you native language, let's say English it's easy for you to say English words and affect a French accent, we've all done it. Do that for a while but consciously listen to what you are doing, what is the rhythm of your speech, how is the cadence different to when you speak English, how is your mouth in a different shape, how are your lips in a different position? Really examine how you are making the English words sound different, but above all keep that rhythm in your head, them substitute the English words for the French words. 

I had incredible success with this as an ELF teacher, there were time when I had Italian students speaking like native English speaker just like that. 

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I'm with those people who say it's important to try and speak in proper accent. It's difficult and most of us will never sound like natives but doing our best is what we should do all the time.

I've met some people who think it's not important and they don't even try, that's what bothers me most.

However, there's also another case: people who are too sensitive and they are afraid that if they try to speak with correct accent, it'll sound laughable in the eyes of the native speakers. So they don't even try - not ouf of disrespect, but because they think not trying is less embarassing.

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I've met some people who think it's not important and they don't even try, that's what bothers me most.

Excellent post. This is a pet peeve of mine to. I've seen people with this opinion make post after defensive post that one doesn't have to use tones in Mandarin. This is terrible advice for beginners who are often not even understood because of bad tones.

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I think there is nothing wrong in speaking a foreign language in your own accent. You will always have an accent when just starting out speaking another language. That is unavoidable. And it requires years of speaking said language until you get rid of the accent, if ever. The best way is to live in a country that speaks the foreign language, because by day to day contact, you can eventually stop having an accent. But if you learn another language abroad, you will assuredly have an accent for a long time. Nothing wrong with that.

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I think there is nothing wrong in speaking a foreign language in your own accent. You will always have an accent when just starting out speaking another language. That is unavoidable. And it requires years of speaking said language until you get rid of the accent, if ever. The best way is to live in a country that speaks the foreign language, because by day to day contact, you can eventually stop having an accent. But if you learn another language abroad, you will assuredly have an accent for a long time. Nothing wrong with that.

But that's the problem - assuming that it's ok to start out with a bad accent and hoping that it will get better after many years. If you never consciously work on your pronunciation, it's probably not going to get much better. That's why it's much better to work on it in the very beginning. It doesn't take long, and it's very effective. You need to work on the pronunciation of phonemes, words and sentences. You need to use audio from native speakers for each of these steps, and always listen before you pronounce until you get the hang of it. It's a pretty simple formula, and a shame that so few follow it.

And to be clear I'm not saying you need to be perfect, but there's no excuse for not being understandable.

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But that's the problem - assuming that it's ok to start out with a bad accent and hoping that it will get better after many years. If you never consciously work on your pronunciation, it's probably not going to get much better. That's why it's much better to work on it in the very beginning. It doesn't take long, and it's very effective. You need to work on the pronunciation of phonemes, words and sentences. You need to use audio from native speakers for each of these steps, and always listen before you pronounce until you get the hang of it. It's a pretty simple formula, and a shame that so few follow it.

And to be clear I'm not saying you need to be perfect, but there's no excuse for not being understandable.

I agree with you, that if you really want to have a barely noticeable accent in any given language, that you have to work hard to achieve it. That is for sure. And yeah, using audio and listening to how native speakers pronounce words help a great deal. It was basically how I learned English in the first place, when I was a kid. By watching movies and shows in English with subtitles. That way I learned what words mean and also how to correctly pronounce them.

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That is easier said then done. It's not to say that most people that learn a language don't try but not everyone has the same linguistic ability.

I have encountered this as well. It can be comical at times, but I think it really comes down to the context of the conversation. This is the great problem of learning the language phonetically and not seeing how the words are supposed to be pronounced. 

It's definitely not easy. But still, not making an effort can lead to a lot of confusion and many a comical situation hehe I guess your own native language can and will influence how well you grasp the pronunciation. Also, wherever you learnt the language can have a huge influence on how you pronounce words in your language. It can be a right nightmare, for sure!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Having an accent when speaking a second language (especially when you learned that later in your life) is almost certain that going to happen to you. But it is not neceserally bad, I mean having an accent is natural and being ashamed because of your mother language shouldn't be a case.

Many people dont like to talk in a language they could be fluent in, because of accents. Don't be like that. Even your native language have many accents in them, just think about that for a second.

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I'm going to come off as a super braggy person right now, but I have never had a problem with accents. My native language is Serbian, which for those of you who don't know is similar to Russian in terms of pronunciation, but I've never had trouble with English accent. I can switch between different English accents as well, although I'm pretty sure people are here are impressed by that because they've no idea how a Scouse accent might sound. When it comes to other languages, it's the same. When I first learn a language, I focus on learning correct pronunciation of letters and combinations of letters in words and then move on to the actual words. That's one of the reasons why I can read pretty much perfect Spanish, but can speak a word of it. I remember a scene when I was in Spain and wanted to brag in front of my friends how I can read the menu on order for all of us. They all piled up and said what they wanted and I pretty much read the menu and added the numbers before each item and then got completely red faced when the waitress assumed I speak Spanish and said something and I had to bow my head and say, "English please." 

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@hungary93....you're absolutely right! There really is no shame in having an accent influenced by your native language when you speak a learnt language. Accents exist everywhere, even within the native English speakers due to the existence of different regional dialects. Some of those people get made fun of too, partly because they have really broad accents. It doesn't make it right, and bowing down to that type of treatment by not even trying to adjust our own accents doesn't help matters. Nobody expect anybody to erase all evidence of their own accents. The idea is to try, so that whatever you articulate is comprehensible to those around you. I love accents LOL Italian, American, Irish, Scottish....I could go on!

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It certainly is nothing that one should be ashamed of. Accents are all different, and the beauty of it is in the fact that they are diverse, beautiful in each own ways, and should be welcomed.

I know many people coming from different countries, who speak English as their second language, myself included. They all sound very different, some sweet, some rough, some comical, sometimes, but they are all very lovely to listen to, and converse with. The beauty of it is that you could have a chance to try to guess which country they all come from, which may turn into a very fun game, for both of you.

I personally am more inclined towards British English, but it is not only due to my love towards BE, but mostly because I was surrounded by British people throughout my studies, so I picked up a lot from them, the accent and all. :)

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