Choosing an accent

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Hotu Matua, Jul 18, 2007.

  1. Hotu Matua

    Hotu Matua Senior Member

    México, español
    Can a learner of English living in a non-English-speaking country choose whether to speak with a specific accent?

    I am a native Spanish speaker and I have chosen to speak English with a phonetics closer to the Southern England's than to the American accent.
    When I was a child, I started learning English with an American accent, as most children do in Mexico.

    However, one day I listened to the speech of a woman, who spoke in the most beatiful South England accent you could ever imagine, and I told myself: "Since English is not my mother tongue anyway, why should I feel obliged to pronounce it the American way? Don't I have the right to choose to speak it with an Scotish, or Irish, or Australian accent for that matter?"

    How is it in your country? Supposing you have the skill to pronounce words in both the American and Southern English way (or Scottish, or Australian for that matter), and supposing you stay in the country where you live (and do not move to an English-speaking society) how do you make your mind on the way you pronounce words?
  2. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    I'm not entirely sure it's possible to decide on which accent to adopt.

    Surely where you are going to be using your second language will have some bearing on it?
    Let's say you were Russian (for example) and you were going to learn English as a second language.
    Let us also say you were going to be living in Scotland.
    Now, you might like the sound of an Australian accent (again, just an example), but it seems to me it would be a bit pointless to deliberately 'put on' an Australian accent.

    If, on the other hand, you were going to live in Australia it would make sense, but actually you would probably find you'd automatically pick up nuances or even the accent of your adopted country/region anyway.

    If you were going to continue to live in Russia and use your new language there I suppose the logical thing would be to adopt the accent of the english speakers with whom you'd be in contact, but personally I think a clean English English is the best option ( :biased: ).

    I know when I first moved here I picked up the Casertan accent (and several words and phrases), and then when I moved to Milan I picked up a bit of a Milanese accent.
    The funny thing was though, that the Milanese people I knew continued to tell me I had a southern accent, while my southern friends said I had picked up the Milanese accent :confused:
    I didn't consciously opt to speak with either accent, I just picked it up as I spoke to people in the place I was living.
    At the moment I'm in central Italy, so I imagine I have a bit of a Roman accent, but it's not a deliberate choice, it just happens.
  3. Hotu Matua

    Hotu Matua Senior Member

    México, español
    I understand that the accent is picked automatically when you move to a particular place where everyone else has that accent, and that it would make no sense to try to deliberately speak in a different accent.
    But what about staying in your original country (e.g. Russia in your case) and then having to use English with a business colleague, or with a tourist?

    You know, for example, that you could utter /wota/ or /wodder/ for "water". Which one the average Russian chooses? What about a person from India, or an Arab Country, or Japan?
  4. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    I suppose it's a personal choice, but I feel that if I were about to start learning a new language I'd want to learn it in it's cleanest form, which for my money would be English English.

    Obviously I'm biased though :p
  5. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    One not only can - one has to if he wants to work on his phonetics.

    Unless you'll consciously or un-consciously be imitating a whole mixture of accents - like your teacher with an Italian accent, Mel Gibson, some pseudo Oxford-English from another teacher later in your life - a whole range of BBC announcer of unknown origin - all this mixed up with the basic accent from your mother tongue.

    This is probably what most people are doing and therefore find difficult ever to get to a point where he sounds like anything near a native.

    Why shouldn't a learner pick an Australian accent, if he can find the sources to learn from? If you want to sound like a native why not pick which native you want to sound like - in stead of letting coincidence decide.

    However, like I have said in other threads: Phonetics tuition is absolutely lousy in more than 90% of all schools. It is something that should be worked more on. If any teachers or students are around, who have some positive examples to tell us about I'd appreciate it. I like good news.
  6. fuzzzylogix

    fuzzzylogix Senior Member

    aspacameur/english 1st, spanish 2nd
    I choose the accent that suits me best, ergo, I use a mixture of accents. I'm a native english speaker having lived in the US, Asia Pacific including the Philippines and Australia, and Europe. And I have what I think is a neutral Asian accent.

    I don't go for the strict British accent because many times the Brits tend to eat the pronunciation of their words. In fact, many times, their pronunciation has nothing to do with the way the word is written.

    I also don't go for the American "twang" or their southern "drawl".

    So, I decided on something neutral - as long as the words are clearly stated and easily understood, I don't care what type of accent anyone has.

    Some Asian leaders have very good neutral Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore or Rico Puno, a Harvard educated newscaster in Manila. Surely they have accents, but nobody would ever misinterpret or have difficulty understanding their speech.

    The Scottish accent, for example, is a foreign language to me.

    I like accents, though. I think it enriches the language and makes it more interesting.
  7. palomnik Senior Member

    You can indeed do it; my wife has done it for years. She's Russian, never lived in the UK, she's been in the USA for 34 years, and she speaks with a British accent, partly because that is what she learned first but mostly because that's what she prefers.

    It does lead to some unusual situations, though, especially when she speaks with British people; sometimes she doesn't know the correct word for something in British English! You might find that kind of thing embarrassing, although my wife doesn't.
  8. ernest_

    ernest_ Senior Member

    Catalan, Spain
    Not only can they choose an accent, they have to choose one inevitably. Otherwise, how would they speak? It is simply not possible to speak without an accent.

    You too? I thought I was the only one :)
    Undoubtedly, female British accents are the sexiest by far!


    I for one have decided to adopt a Scottish accent. Some people feel a wee bit alienated when they hear me, but I just tell them that I have chosen to speak with a Scottish accent just like they (perhaps inadvertently) have chosen to speak with whatever accent they use. The only problem is that it is usually a bit harder to find material from which you can learn if you are studying a rare accent, and you'll tend to mimic the accent you are more exposed to, so it is probably better to make sure you keep getting exposure of some sort to your target accent.
  9. K-Milla

    K-Milla Senior Member

    I think that you have the right to speak as you want to do it. When I was studying English in Brighton Uk everybody told that I was speaking with an American accent, something that I didn´t realize at the time.

    Now, I know that I speak with a British accent [something I do like] and now that I am in Mexico, everyone tells me that I must speak with the American accent. Funny thing.
  10. HIEROPHANT Junior Member

    The American pronunciation is much more common in the TV/Music, so I think it would be easier to learn that one. Also, the British pronunciation can be more difficult...
  11. K-Milla

    K-Milla Senior Member

    I don´t know if the British accent is more difficult than American or Australian. Perhaps the way the British people speak is not that common that it could be just a "weird" way of speaking because of the American TV/Music/Films thar are quite known everywhere.

    I would say that it depends where you are. For example, if you are in Spain, maybe you will love to speak with that specific accent.
  12. clairanne Senior Member

    East Sussex
    english UK

    I come from South East England and find there are many differnt accents just in one village. You have the East Sussex country accent, spoken, generally by the older people who were educated in their local village and still live there, maybe 60 - 70 years on.

    A a sort of generalised town accent, which sounds like mild "cockney" - full of dipthongs and "th" pronounced "f" - I personally think this is horrible.
    Also the privately educated "posh" BBC type english - which most of us either aspire to or think is spoken by "snobs"

    I put myself somewhere in between - fairly BBC with touches of the East Sussex rounded vowels. I have been chosen to be the voice on my work voicemail service because they think I have a nice voice - it may be for the timbre rather than the accent though.

    I would not be able to tell the difference between different areas in France, for example a school french tutor once told me the Marseilles accent was coarse - but it just sounded french to me and my Argentinian friend considers her South American spanish to be far more "elegant" than the spanish spoken in Spain. I can hear the difference in this as the South Americans use soft s's and the spanish use "th" It sounds to me as if the speakers from Spain speak with a lisp.
  13. thuja Senior Member

    english; united states
    As some other speakers have pointed out, one has to choose some accent, because there is no such thing as unaccented English (or Spanish). What you are really asking is, is it okay to choose an accent which is not the "easy" one (As the "standard" American accent would be in Mexico). I say, certainly. It´s not your native language, you can choose whatever you want, without being accused of affectation. I know several Americans who have learned spanish mostly in the US, but who speak with an Iberian accent, rather than the standardized American spanish accent which is most commonly taught here. But there are some practical limits, and I think it is probably best to stick to the "standardized" accents rather than regional ones such as, say, Scots English or Southern US speech. The "standardized" accents are most widely and easily understood, and there is much more material available to help you learn.

    I also think that it's not just an accent--it's also a vocabulary and characteristic expressions, and you should probably try to be consistent--if you're going to use British "received" pronunciation, you should learn their vocabulary and their expressions too. And while you're at it, try to figure out British culture too. They're definitely not just like Americans.

    If you move to a place or spend time there, you will inevitably pick up elements of the local accent/lexicon, whether or not it´s your "target" accent. It happens to native speakers as well as language learners.

    I have, by the way, heard a number of Japanese who speak English with a British pronunciation, although the American is certainly more common.
  14. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    When I was studying English (some years ago, oops!) university students were requested to choose between British and American English. Obviously, that meant 'standard British' / BBC English and 'standard American' English, mostly taught by French teachers (ahem :eek:...). That meant that we also had to stick to the use of either British or American lexicon and spelling - but we needed to have overall knowledge of both variants. Other variants were equally acceptable. I mean, choosing standard, not (too) colloquial Australian English would not have been frowned upon provided that you were consistent.
    British English is taught at schools here (I mean that most of the audio material uses British English), but the vast majority of secondary school students just pick up a lousy accent!...
  15. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I remember I very agitated dispute I had with a teacher at university (substitute for one month) concerning my pronounciation. I am and was at that time speaking AE with a strong Canadian touch, which I find appropriate because about half of the relatives I have any regular contact with live in Vancouver, B.C.

    He spoke BE very well - no BBC-English - sounded like a more civilized version of London East End than you'd hear in the films "Lock Stock and two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch".

    In his arguing that I was stressing one word wrongly - which was not the case - he got very upset and claimed that according to the official curriculum only BE was to be considered correct. All I could say to that at the time was that I'd like to see that in print before I'd believe that. Since he was a politician (MEP) that should not have been such an unusual situation to him.

    This caused me to look into the official curriculums of various non-private school-/university systems where English is taught as a foreign language - and I have not found one yet where there is any legal basis for giving a student more or less credit for speaking one or the other of the generally known versions of the English language.

    Anybody else here, who had teachers claiming that only BE goes?
  16. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi modus borealis

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Years ago an elderly professor in Canada told me (with no written justification) that only peninsular Spanish pronunciation was acceptable in the coursework. It's the only case I've ever heard of at any academic level where a particular accent was urged on the students.

    My Spanish is a hybrid of Bolivian pronunciation, Mexican vocabulary, and Argentine syntax, with nothing remotely peninsular about it. It reflects how I learned it and with whom I speak it ... it reflects who I am. I could choose to speak as a Bolivian or Mexican or Argentine, but why should I set up a false image of who I am?
  17. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Aha. So in Canada you have such (Beeep) too, eh?

    Of course I'd generally advice that one makes sure that he sticks to a vocabulary that at least fits the pronounciation. But even this is difficult because not even native speakers always do:

    "I am preparing for my licence for heavy lorries because I want to be a trucker", an English girl once said to me. It is probably OK to be a trucker in GB, but in BE the word "truck" is used for a certain type of railroad wagon, as far as I remember.

    I mix them up too sometimes - like last weekend when I caught myself saying "number plate" in stead of "licence plate" several times during a conversation. I thought about it afterwards and realized that I reflectively say "licence plate" when I am actuall thinking of one in the usual American shape and format and "number plate" when thinking of a European one.

    But there are really a good deal of words that have different meanings so it can be somewhat confusing when people mix the different kinds of English - and probably also different versions of other languages that are widely spread on this planet.
  18. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi modus borealis

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Yes, you always have to keep in mind the vocabulary differences and be prepared to explain if, during a moment of absent-mindedness, a regionalism hops out. I can get away with a lot of absent-mindedness, because so many people watch Mexican soap operas. If your vocabulary doesn't come from a dominant area, it can interfere with your ability to communicate.
  19. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    That is true - even I occasionally watch Mexican soaps on Spanish television. And various other Latin-American soaps.

    But what I meant, was that you often know what significance the word has, if you know more than one, based on the pronounciation. That improves the communication flow. But then again, native speakers often don't know either.
  20. K-Milla

    K-Milla Senior Member

    One of my cousins have a friend who is from Germany. He was living in Mexico for about 1 year and then he went back home. He said that his Spanish Teacher told him to speak Spanish with the Iberian accent, something he dislike. He explained that the latin accent is more common and because we are Millions of people speaking with this peculiar way, that was the perfect Spanish accent.
  21. barceloní New Member

    spanish, catalan
    And because Latin American sort of accent is easier to learn than Iberian Spanish accent. Even the Latin American people make mistakes when they write z, s, or c before e, i. It's so funny for peninsular speakers.:)
  22. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    Aha. To concur with Chaska Ñawi, what I wrote about English is not valid for Spanish here in France.
    If I had decided to become a Spanish teacher here, I too would have been told that Spain was the official reference. When I gave Spanish lessons in some occasions, I had to explain that my Spanish was Latin American (Venezuelan, in fact), and to tell my students that this was the reason why I didn't pronounce c/z...

    PS - Unlike English, my Spanish is not a choice - I was raised bilingual...
  23. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Ah I am so proud! Which Scottish accent have you adopted? I am glad you used 'a Scottish accent' and not 'the Scottish accent' like 'fuzzzylogix' did. Anyway, I digress...

    Everyone should be allowed to choose which accent they wish to adopt. Working in a restaurant and a café, I notice that MANY foreigners choose to pick up an American accent. I think this alerts me more to the fact that the person I'm speaking to is foreign and so I speak slower or more clearly so that they understand (that sounds rather patronising, doesn't it! I don't mean it like that...). If they speak English really well, with any sort of British accent, they are usually Dutch or Scandanavian, whereas I find that many Italians pick up an American accent...maybe some will disagree, but that's my findings anyway!

    P.s. I have yet to find a man that doesn't find Scottish accents sexy!
  24. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    I agree with you about people who choose an American accent, ayupshiplad. I am under the impression that in my working context, many people mentally associate an American accent (or at least, picking up some American elements, a retroflex r etc...) with being successful in business!!!
  25. thuja Senior Member

    english; united states
    Well, you peninsular speakers have the same problem with the b,v pair, not to mention dropping h's. This pernicious habit of merging sounds and dropping them altogether certainly started on the peninsula.

    In passing, and off-topic, let me say that it often surprises me how badly native Spanish speakers spell (admittedly generally worse in Latin America than in Spain). For us English speakers, used to the memory demands and total illogicalities of English spelling, it seems so ridiculously and delightfully simple. I suppose part of the reason is that most of the time in spanish, one can get away with a pure phonetic approach to spelling words, but not always. "azahar", for example. Written->oral is unambigous, but oral->written simply requires visual memory. For English speakers, a visual memory requirement is universal. so we're good at it.
  26. mirx Banned

    We don't have spelling classes at school, we have ortography lessons but they put emphasis on accents more than in spelling. In spanish there's no such phonetic distinction between b y v, and there has never been, on the countrary to make such difference is completely unacceptable and has been banned by our RAE.

    ayupshiplad: I don't find scottish accents sexy at all -at least not glasgow accent which I more familiar with-. I first need to decipher what they say and then I can tell whether I find it sexy or not.

    My accent is a mix of all, so most people understand what I say with no problem. If I get too confident my true southern American accent will show.
  27. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I have the impression that our choice often depends not on our wishes, but on our teachers. If you teacher speaks English with standard British pronunciation, it will be pretty tricky for you to speak with American accent, even if you like it most - copying teachers is human.;)

    I know that some language schools offer the students the choice between two or even more varieties of language, but in schools and universities it still depends on the teacher's preferences. I was really lucky that almost all my University teachers are fond of British English.
  28. Idiomático Senior Member

    Virginia, USA
    Latin American Spanish
    Of course one is entitled to speak a second language with any accent one chooses! However, one usually speaks any acquired language with the accent of the person or persons from whom one learns it. Intentionally adopting another accent because one thinks it sounds more pleasant is comparable to adopting the customs of another culture one happens to admire. (I like to see the Japanese bow to one another, yet people would find it strange if I started bowing to them it in my present surroundings.) I learned to speak English with an American accent. Although I consider the Oxford accent more elegant than the American accent, I certainly would not try to put it on in the United States (or anywhere else, for that matter), simply because I know I would sound ridiculous. That does not mean that if I ever moved to England and lived there for an extended period I would purposely avoid picking up the accent of the region where I settled.
  29. mirx Banned


    I agree with everything, and I am curious about this last statement. And also I actually believe you need to be very conscious to avoid picking the accent of where you settled as this process happens -most of time- unconsciuosly.

  30. HistofEng Senior Member

    New York
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole

  31. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hiya, can you elaborate? I don't understand what you mean. Thanks.
  32. mirx Banned

    I suppose he means not pronouncing the "r" -you know what I mean by this, right?- or saying for example secretry instead of secretary, and well having this same pattern in words with similar estructure.
  33. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    I try to adjust my accent to the one the person I'm speaking to speaks. At least with languages other than English. E.g if I speak Spanish and a person starts using vos instead of tu and says "sh" instead of "y", then I'll imitate that.
  34. DiabloScott

    DiabloScott Senior Member

    USA English
    Sorry to top this old thread but it seems better than starting a new one.

    I find it very interesting that it's quite proper and polite and even expected for someone speaking a non-native language to mimic the accent of the region he/she is visiting, but it's considered rude and phony for someone speaking a native language to mimic an accent.

    Eg; English is my first language. Spanish my second and I speak very differently in Spain than in Puerto Rico; it's fun and interesting to make the switch and people compliment me on it.

    In England I might say "lift" instead of "elevator" but I wouldn't try to imitate Prince Charles because 1) I wouldn't be very convincing and 2) I would be concerned that people would think I were making fun of them.

    This has to do with travelling of course... I would expect the sentiment to be different for long-term living conditions.
  35. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I have a mix of Australian, American, and British accents. I usually have a quite American vocabulary and expressions, but my pronunciation still has something Australian or British on it.

    I don't really think of how I pronounce the words,
    When I speak English I try to concentrate upon the words and the content of what I'm saying. To think about my accent would complicate things a bit more.
  36. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I think a main reason why American accent is so widespread is because, well, it's more widespread.
    In most parts of the world, if you turn on the TV and watch something in English, it's mostly in American accent.
    That's just the way it is in today's world. People are much more familiar with American accent.
  37. NotTheDoctor Senior Member

    En la ciudad de la eterna primavera
    Español - English - Français
    I have two different accents in Spanish. Although I am Colombian, my main accent is Venezuelan because that's where I grew up. At home, with my parents, we spoke with a Colombian accent. I can switch between the two without missing a beat, but most Colombians are able to "feel" my Venezuelan accent even when I'm speaking with a Colombian accent. However, I tend to mimic the accent and the expressions of the person I'm talking to (the accent, NOT the pronunciation). Some people find this weird or funny. I don't think I have ever offended anyone. This is not a conscious choice, it's just that otherwise I feel like I'm singing to a different tune. I learned English watching American sitcoms, so my accent is 100% American. No matter who I'm talking to. And my French is strictly Parisian.

    I have lived in France for 6 years. At University, quite a few teachers told me that my Spanish wasn't good because it wasn't "Spanish from Spain". They were always correcting me and telling me this or that was wrong. I got into the habit of carrying my RAE dictionary to class to prove I was right. I hated it. I still do, and I still have to deal with it.

    And French people find my American accent funny. I happen to speak very good English, but whenever I speak English in front of my French friends, there's always one who finds it extremely amusing. Some of my British friends do the same. I have a friend who cracks up every time I say bottle or water or party or any other word that brings out my American accent.

    I love accents. I wish I could speak English with a Southern drawl. Or a posh British accent. That'd be fun!
  38. raptor

    raptor Senior Member

    BC, Canada
    Canada, English
    While learning Spanish, I had different teachers, one from Spain, one from Cuba. Although both taught me the same amount of time, I adopt the Latin American accent because it feels more natural somehow.

    Accents are very interesting to me as well. I have heard various accents, and when reading a book with a character from various countries, for example, I can give them the accent they may have.

    Sometimes when speaking it just happens that I speak with an accent, even though I was raised almost only Canadian English. For example, once when trying to speak French to someone, it turned into an Italian accent. :confused:

    Some accents I can pronounce (some better than others ;)), but some are much harder. What do you think the causes are, because I have only lived in BC, but have heard accents in dozens of languages/dialects. Is it in some way genetic, because in my family, (1/2 Canadian-British 1/2 Canadian-Belgian) myself and youngest sister can pass of French accents easily, but my other sister can't.

  39. toolmanUF Junior Member

    Washington, DC
    St. Petersburg, Florida, USA (English)
    I think that there is nothing wrong with trying to acquire a certain accent. I guess it is better to perfect a certain accent that really exists rather than trying to go for that fake "textbook" standard accent that every teacher wants you to adopt, but which doesn't really exist in real life.

    I love how people say "I want to learn the British accent" or "American accent." What exactly does this mean? As an American, I can tell you that there are some major differences in accent across the country (although, not as many as you might expect for such an enormous country). Listen to people from Boston, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles and you will hear so many different accents! And the more you expose yourself to them, you can often guess where people are from by how they talk.

    My point being is: these are all "American" accents! And, from what I've seen with the British people that I know, for such a tiny country they have some major dialectal differences. So, I think this concept of the "British accent" or "American accent" doesn't really reflect reality.

    One more thing: When I was studying abroad in Spain, I felt like there was a stigma against American English. I saw so many posters saying "I am looking for a conversation partner in English , must be BRITISH English." Many of the students who I met said that the teachers encourage them to focus on British English and expose them to just that. While I have nothing against British English (I find it a charming dialect actually), the reality is that American English (and by extension, its similiar variant Canadian English) is spoken by nearly 330 million people and I feel like it is just more practical to expose English students to the predominant dialect (i.e some form of American English). It becomes really snobby when people act like your dialect of English isn't as worthy as another dialect. (And we have this same problem in the States, as some dialects are viewed quite negatively).

    Well, that's my two cents!
  40. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    Many years ago, when I learned Spanish for the first time, I had teachers from Mexico, Peru, and Spain. I didn't pay much attention to my accent.

    Now I am learning Spanish for the second time (after decades of neglect), and am using Latin American study materials. I am making a conscious effort to develop a Mexican accent and cadence. It seems appropriate, since I live so close to Mexico.

    So my answer to the original poster's question is "yes, definitely."
  41. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Usually, this will depend on the teacher.
    But in Austria, for example, we have a tradition of teaching British English, and as our teacher's academies teach British English, too, almost all teachers go for the British accent - and so do most people here when speaking English, despite Hollywood and all that. (The exception being native Americans teaching here.)

    However, you will equally find people here in Austria choosing a particular accent, mostly this would be American (as most people start off with British accent), but someone spending a few months in, say, Scotland might come back with a Scottish accent and keep it for sentimental reasons.
  42. kirsitn

    kirsitn Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norway, Norwegian
    Oh, yes! In Norway everyone was supposed to learn English with a British accent (Oxford English), so I had to fight my way through 5th to 8th grade with my American accent which I picked up from watching Falcon Crest (of all lousy TV programs... :eek:) and insisted on keeping. But I won in the end. :D

    Later on I realized that I actually kind of prefer British English and Scottish, but it's too late for me to switch accent now. I can imitate both "standard" British, Scottish and Australian accents, but it doesn't feel natural and I don't have the vocabulary to go with it.
  43. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I would say that this has more to do with geography and politics than with stigma. Britain and Spain are members of the EU, so British citizens can teach in Spain without a work permit (whereas US citizens need a work permit). EU membership also means that it is easier for a British citizen than for a US citizen to set up a language school in Spain. As a result, British English tends to be the norm in the language schools of Spain, and I find it logical that a student who learns British English in class should wish to stick with it in one-to-one conversation. In any case, there are close commercial links between Britain and Spain, so there is some value in being able to understand British English.
  44. Nijan

    Nijan Senior Member

    Italian, Italy - Salerno
    University of Salerno, a Spanish professor from Chile (Matte Bon) once failed a Spanish mother tongue student because of her accent, pretending the standard variety spoken in Spain.
  45. toolmanUF Junior Member

    Washington, DC
    St. Petersburg, Florida, USA (English)
    I understand that British English would be the most logical dialect for a Spaniard to learn, especially considering the proximity and the fact that there are probably more Brits in Spain than Americans.

    However, does that mean that a student cannot meet with an American conversation partner to practice his English? I was a student of Spanish, and I would always take advantage of any opportunity that I had to speak the language, whether it was with a Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, Chilean, Spaniard etc. After all, the differences among the vaieties of Spanish are not so severe as to cause major comprehension difficulties. I cannot fathom how snobby it would have to been to put up a sign "Searching for Spanish conversation partner, but Castillian Spanish only!"

    I must confess that when I first started learning Spanish I fell for the myth that Spanish Spanish is the purist and I even went as far as to say that certain things about the Latin American pronunciation were wrong (or lacking.) I think that this is common among many learners. But now I realize how silly this kind of thinking is, as Latin American Spanish is spoken as a native language by nearly 350 million people: their Spanish is just as valid as that of Spain.

    Many students that I met majoring in English told me that they found my accent quite difficult to understand, and would often "correct" me when I would say things like "my grade in this class" (Oh, your "mark"?) or "the elevator." I'm sorry, but if you are majoring in English you are expected to know how English is spoken by the majority of its speakers and not act as if one variety is so much more prestigious than the rest. I personally feel like English students should at least be exposed to all common varieties of the language, meaning English, Scottish, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Canadian, and of course the many varieties that make up American English.
  46. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Well I actually checked up on the laws after the dispute with that teacher I mentioned and found that there was no law whatsoever entitling them to value BE higher than AE at the final exams - a teacher I had later told me not to try to change my Canadian influenced AE.

    I have no idea how they can believe they are entitled discriminate that way. The name of the subject is "English" not "British English".

    And the kind of English those - usually non-native - BE-fan(atic)s are teaching is not spoken by anyone I've ever met anyway. The people from England you really meet speak like John Lennon did, or like Bullet-Tooth-Tony from "Lock, Stock, and two smoking Barrels" or something. And those who only learned from the BE-fan(atic)s usually don't understand a word they are saying. Some English-tuition that is!
  47. Montesacro Senior Member

    Thus the prestige of an accent (or language) should be gauged from the number of its speakers... :rolleyes:
    O tempora, o mores!

    A great deal of people justify their choice of studying a particular language (or adopting a particular accent) on the grounds of its large(r) number of speakers…
    A proper (if sadly utilitarian) point of view…
  48. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I used to teach English in Spain, and I can assure you that neither I nor any of my colleagues was "fanatical" about BE. We simply taught the type of English that we were familiar with. "Prestige" or "superiority" didn't come into it. Let's not forget that most English is common to all varieties. In the time available it was difficult enough for the students to become proficient in core English. I would not have been happy to reduce the time spent on this in order to make time for the teaching of non-BE varieties. In any case, I could not have taught AE, because I am not proficient in it: look at all the threads in this this forum in which a BE speaker says "I think this is AE" and a AE speaker replies, "No, it is not" (and vice-versa).
  49. yecru Junior Member

    UK - English
    Exactly. There is no such thing as a "British accent". Foreigners (especially Americans) use that expression to refer to a posh-sounding southern English accent which only a small percentage of people in the UK actually speak with.
  50. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    I don’t think you “choose” an accent. Like a child will grow up speaking the language(s) of its surroundings, an adult will adopt the way of speaking a foreign language according to where (s)he chooses :eek: to live – only with a “small” difference, though: an adult will not be able to adopt minute details pertaining to the phonetic inventory of the language (which inevitably will result in a “foreign accent” ;)), whereas a child (up to around 12) is still able to learn the nitty-gritties of the surrounding idiom.

    There are lots of strange ideas about “accent”. Generally, people with no ideas about phonetics will think that after 30 years in a foreign country they speak the language more or less with the relevant accent. Well, in most cases they don’t.

    One example: A Greek woman having lived and raised her children in the States, pretended she was being regularly mistaken by the Americans to be British. First of all, she had never lived in Britain – she was thus conveying American ignorance about what sort of accent she acctually had (most Americans haven’t lived in Britain either!) – and secondly, her American accent (and indeed her English language skills in general) were good enough for all intents and purposes, but one “small” thing was missing: she didn’t aspirate her consonants.

    Greek p/t/k are non-aspirated – English p/t/k are aspirated. The same obstreperously neglected detail obtains for Spanish (which has a phonetic inventory surprisingly similar to that of Greek) – and for many other languages.

    Does it make a difference?

    The Greek woman in question – she could have been Russian or Italian! – had no idea about aspiration. She never learned it in school while still in Greece, and the reason is obvious: everybody in Greece speaks English with non-aspirated consonants – including the teacher. :D

    Many people will not be able to pin-point what is “wrong” with her accent. But if you ask a Chinese or an Indian, they will immediately recognize where the shoe pinches; they have grown up with both sets of consonants.

    Another example. Once I read about this American actor who was playing a character in a film featuring Irish society at one point in time – I can’t remember the details. He was briefed in how to produce an Irish accent – the so-called “Irish brogue” – and according to film critics, he did “marvellously well”. I never watched the film, but I just wonder how well he performed – phonetically speaking.

    How on earth will an adult American learn how to pre-aspirate p/t/k – not in all positions, though! – instead of “post-aspirating” them, so to say. I am sure the lessons in Irish phonetics that he was subjected to, had precious little about pre-aspiration which is a typical Hiberno-English feature due to the inevitable Irish substratum. Indeed, they still pre-aspirate in Irish like they do in Icelandic – only somehow differently. Is this feature “learnable”?

    I don’t exclude at all that minute phonetic features relative to just any language or dialect can be learned theoretically by an adult, but will (s)he be able to practice it consistently? In most cases, a so-called “accent” is acquired early in the adult language learning process. It could be a British accent if a student from say, Greece, embarks on a university study in England. The surprising thing, however, is that after 4 or 5 years of study the well-qualified graduate returns to his home country – without aspirated consonants in his English speaking habits... Nobody told him to focus on it. :eek:

    By contrast, a 6 year-old child learned not only English – on the level of his peers! – during a two-year stay in Ireland, but he left the country ...with an Irish brogue. :)

    Being fluent in Italian – with a “supra-regional” Italian accent – does not mean that you are not able to imitate f.ex. a Bologna accent or a Milano one (depending on how much time you have actually spent in these cities). You might even be doing it better than the Italians themselves because you are less stuck in their supra-segmental linguistic behavior. But you shouldn’t imagine that your Bologna singsong has anything to do with a real Bologna accent. It might as well be recognized by non bolognesi as the “right sauce”, but local people will probably judge otherwise – unless they are very polite (and we all are when it comes to foreigners and their ability to speak a local vernacular ;)).

    Even the accent of Veneto you can perfectly well imitate – I do it myself! – but I have never pretended to be able to generate consistently the correct morphology of any of the numerous dialects in question. Don’t even imagine that you can do so without inattentively slipping into standard language – except on a theoretical level and provided you are an assiduous reader of the review Quatro ciàcoe...
    ;) :)

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