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Thread: Keeping your accent when speaking English

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    Default Keeping your accent when speaking English

    People who do not speak English as a native language tend to have an accent, but some may be so fluent in English that they manage to speak in a certain accent like British or General American. Some may choose to speak with an "approved" accent, others might keep their native one.

    I feel like I am being fake if I choose to speak with a British accent (which would be the most natural accent for me to adopt since I've been taught BE in school). I know how to do it, but I choose to speak with my native accent because that seems to me more real.

    I find it charming when others speak perfect English, but with their own accent. An example is Christoph Walz, which is very fluent in English, but has his distinct Austrian accent. I'm sure you have seen him in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, but here is an interview with him.

    So my question to you, especially to you who are native speakers of English, what do you think of people keeping their non-English accent? Should they do it, or should they adopt a native English accent?
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    In my experience, it's not always a choice.

    I used to speak Spanish fluently and would try to mimic as close to a Castillian accent as I could. However, I still sounded like an American trying to speak Castellano. Certain words sounded more authentic than others, but there was still no mistaking me for a native speaker.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Miss_1565 View Post
    In my experience, it's not always a choice.

    I used to speak Spanish fluently and would try to mimic as close to a Castillian accent as I could. However, I still sounded like an American trying to speak Castellano. Certain words sounded more authentic than others, but there was still no mistaking me for a native speaker.
    Of course, one must be fluent enough to have the choice. I am just like you when I speak Spanish, I am not proficient enough to speak Spanish with a Castellano accent.
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    It's an interesting question that I've had come up several times. I don't speak German as well as I used to, but when I lived in Austria, apparently I didn't have an American accent. People could tell I was foreign, but they didn't know where I was from. Anyway, my German has gone way downhill since then, so I can't talk about myself in this regard.

    I do, however, know people who speak English so well that they are able to mimic an accent. It seems that their fellow countryfolk have a problem with it, but native speakers really don't care at all. I've never once cared or even thought about it until, for example, a Slovene complained that another Slovene speaks with a British accent when he speaks English. To me, it's about the person's wishes. If you don't wish to learn an accent, that's fine. If you like a particular English accent and wish to speak with it, that's equally fine. I don't think speaking with a different accent is any less real than speaking another language.

    Really, I don't think accents are important enough to care. I don't like it when people move to the big city and intentionally change their accent of their native language in order to seem more "sophisticated"... I've also met Americans who lived in Australia or the UK for like a year, and when they went back to the US they forced an accent and claimed that they picked it up there and couldn't change back... which is obvious bullshit and they were forcing it for attention. If you're forcing an accent for attention or to seem sophisticated, that's super lame. But if you just like the accent, or just want to sound like a native speaker, more power to you.

    Would it bother you if someone from, say, France, moved to Norway, learned Norwegian proficiently and picked up a very natural-sounding Norwegian accent? Would you rather they keep their French accent?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Llamas View Post
    It's an interesting question that I've had come up several times. I don't speak German as well as I used to, but when I lived in Austria, apparently I didn't have an American accent. People could tell I was foreign, but they didn't know where I was from. Anyway, my German has gone way downhill since then, so I can't talk about myself in this regard.

    I do, however, know people who speak English so well that they are able to mimic an accent. It seems that their fellow countryfolk have a problem with it, but native speakers really don't care at all. I've never once cared or even thought about it until, for example, a Slovene complained that another Slovene speaks with a British accent when he speaks English. To me, it's about the person's wishes. If you don't wish to learn an accent, that's fine. If you like a particular English accent and wish to speak with it, that's equally fine. I don't think speaking with a different accent is any less real than speaking another language.

    Really, I don't think accents are important enough to care. I don't like it when people move to the big city and intentionally change their accent of their native language in order to seem more "sophisticated"... I've also met Americans who lived in Australia or the UK for like a year, and when they went back to the US they forced an accent and claimed that they picked it up there and couldn't change back... which is obvious bullshit and they were forcing it for attention. If you're forcing an accent for attention or to seem sophisticated, that's super lame. But if you just like the accent, or just want to sound like a native speaker, more power to you.
    You have that here as well, that if you, as a Norwegian, speak English with a British or General American accent, you are looked upon as pretentious by other Norwegians. I don't know why that is. Might be because it doesn't seem real. That is sad I think. If you are proficient enough to do that, and you wish to do so, I think you should be able to. I had a few English courses at university, some with Norwegian lecturers and some with British lecturers. The Norwegian ones spoke with British or American accents, and one of them said they had to whether they wanted to or not, because it is deemed necessary by the international community.

    Quote Originally Posted by Llamas View Post
    Would it bother you if someone from, say, France, moved to Norway, learned Norwegian proficiently and picked up a very natural-sounding Norwegian accent? Would you rather they keep their French accent?
    Good question. I would be very impressed if someone spoke Norwegian fluently with a Norwegian accent, and I would even prefer it over Norwegian with a French accent. Still, there is nothing wrong with speaking with a French accent, I think that is a bit more charming.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RageAndLov View Post
    if you, as a Norwegian, speak English with a British or General American accent, you are looked upon as pretentious by other Norwegians.
    That's utter bullshit. I have an American friend here who feels the same about people here who talk with British accents - pretentious. I don't like that.

    If you are proficient enough to do that, and you wish to do so, I think you should be able to.
    Yep. It's awesome if you can do that. I teach pronunciation to my students (I teach mostly American pronunciation obviously, but I teach the British ways sometimes, as well), and when they improve, it's a great feeling for me. But I also have students who have no interest in working on pronunciation and are perfectly content having a thick accent. I see no problem with that. Should be the person's own decision.

    I had a few English courses at university, some with Norwegian lecturers and some with British lecturers. The Norwegian ones spoke with British or American accents, and one of them said they had to whether they wanted to or not, because it is deemed necessary by the international community.
    Hmm, that sounds pretty bullshity, too.

    Good question. I would be very impressed if someone spoke Norwegian fluently with a Norwegian accent, and I would even prefer it over Norwegian with a French accent. Still, there is nothing wrong with speaking with a French accent, I think that is a bit more charming.
    Yeah, it depends on the person. I don't think someone should choose an accent to try to seem more classy, nor to be more charming. I think it should just be about how the person feels, talking with whatever accent they're most comfortable with. If you're in (for example) international business, though, a standard accent (American or British) is probably best simply for clarity and understanding.
    Last edited by Llamas; 05-12-2013 at 03:06 PM.
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    I'd just add that there is no such thing as a 'British accent'. There are a multitude of accents and dialects spoken all over the UK. What you are probably referring to is 'received pronunciation,' which is what British newsreaders primarily used to sound authoritative.

    It should be noted from the wiki page that hardly any actual British people speak with RP, and people using it are generally thought of as posh.

    Major accents in the UK include cockney (mostly east London and parts of essex), estuary english (kent, essex, london), scouse (Liverpool), manc (Manchester), black country (I should note 'Black Country' refers to a region in the UK around Birmingham/Wolverhampton, so named due to it's blacksmithing heritage), West country (Bristol down to cornwall - think pirates), Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish (and even within Scotland and Wales the northerners' accent sounds quite different from the southerners' accent), geordie (Newcastle/Durham), Yorkshire etc and so on. There are also weird pockets of accents - the natives of Corby, which is a small town in the south midlands, sound fairly scottish - this happened because factory owners of the town shipped a load of Scots down for cheap labor a few generations ago and the accents blended.

    As for your question - i really don't mind, although it can be disconcerting to hear somebody using received pronunciation in everyday speak - it sounds artificial in itself.

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    Accents are something I have some experience with now that I no longer have a proper accent in any language.

    As far as people hearing my accent in Danish. My experience is similar to Llamas in that people no longer assume I am American or an anglophone. At some point unless I specifically point out I am American, people will just start filling in the blanks automatically (this being Denmark its natural for people to guess I'm from the Faroe Islands or the Danish countryside, no one guesses Sweden anymore, so apparently Swedes are connected to poor Danish accents.) However once I say I'm American, something clicks and they are able to "hear" that accent. I find this rather amusing.

    I think if people can emulate an accent and want to, they should try. However people should be wary of the fact that their accent might not be as good as they think it is, I find its much more difficult to hear one's own accent, even or especially if you think you can. Its a personal preference, but if you don't practice an accent you'll never get it perfect anyways.

    As for my 'accents'. I've given up on English and speak whatever comes accent comes naturally. This is unfortunately a mix of American, British, Danglish and whatever else can be thrown into that stew from my immediate environment. And this is all a guess on my part, as to my ears, it still sounds American. As for Danish, all I can tell you is that I have an accent and that its improved enough over the past 10 years that at least now people assume I'm from within the Danish realm. Honestly I never thought my accent would get that good.

    Edit: i'd like to point out that 'British accent' and 'American accent' is obviously shorthand for accent from ______.

    Seeing as England isn't the only country in the world with more than one dialect...
    Last edited by wheelchairman; 05-12-2013 at 02:55 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Britpunk View Post
    I'd just add that there is no such thing as a 'British accent'. There are a multitude of accents and dialects spoken all over the UK. What you are probably referring to is 'received pronunciation,' which is what British newsreaders primarily used to sound authoritative.

    It should be noted from the wiki page that hardly any actual British people speak with RP, and people using it are generally thought of as posh.

    Major accents in the UK include cockney (mostly east London and parts of essex), estuary english (kent, essex, london), scouse (Liverpool), manc (Manchester), black country (I should note 'Black Country' refers to a region in the UK around Birmingham/Wolverhampton, so named due to it's blacksmithing heritage), West country (Bristol down to cornwall - think pirates), Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish (and even within Scotland and Wales the northerners' accent sounds quite different from the southerners' accent), geordie (Newcastle/Durham), Yorkshire etc and so on. There are also weird pockets of accents - the natives of Corby, which is a small town in the south midlands, sound fairly scottish - this happened because factory owners of the town shipped a load of Scots down for cheap labor a few generations ago and the accents blended.

    As for your question - i really don't mind, although it can be disconcerting to hear somebody using received pronunciation in everyday speak - it sounds artificial in itself.
    It's funny how every single time I see someone point out that there's no such thing as one country's accent, it's a British person. No country has a single unifying accent... Germany pretty much doesn't even have a unifying language (I refuse to accept Schwäbisch as German), let alone a unifying accent. And yet you could probably still identify a "German accent", as - as Per said - "an accent from Germany". All British people certainly don't have the same accent, but if I hear someone from any part of GB speaking English, I'm able to say, "Oh, that person is British". I wouldn't be able to tell you which accent they have, though, just as you wouldn't be able to say which accent someone from Germany has. You'd call any of them a "German accent". This applies to every single country in the world. Even Slovenia - a country of 2 million people, which can be driven across in like 2 hours - has a dozen or so different accents and dialects. So there's also no such thing as a "Slovene accent"...

    Quote Originally Posted by wheelchairman View Post
    I think if people can emulate an accent and want to, they should try. However people should be wary of the fact that their accent might not be as good as they think it is, I find its much more difficult to hear one's own accent, even or especially if you think you can. Its a personal preference, but if you don't practice an accent you'll never get it perfect anyways.
    I have a teenager who thinks he can speak with a Southern US accent. It's so, so awful. I had to ask him what the hell he was doing because I had no idea it was supposed to be a Southern accent. He's also tried to talk "like a black person" a couple times... *facepalm*.

    This is unfortunately a mix of American, British, Danglish and whatever else can be thrown into that stew from my immediate environment.
    Why do you consider this unfortunate?
    Last edited by Llamas; 05-12-2013 at 03:49 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wheelchairman View Post
    Edit: i'd like to point out that 'British accent' and 'American accent' is obviously shorthand for accent from ______.

    Seeing as England isn't the only country in the world with more than one dialect...
    Clearly, but the question itself referred to 'British Accent' as if that were a single, definable entity - I was just pointing out that it isn't, so asking if non-english speakers should use it or not requires an awareness of the subtleties at play.

    Also, speaking perfectly 'standard english' is no guarantee of being understood. I was once in a hotel lift in Los Angeles and some big brash 'Texan' (he may not have been Texan, but his pristine white suit and cowboy hat made me think Texan - isn't stereotyping fun!) asked me what floor I wanted - I replied 'The fourth, please' in my normal vaguely posh-sounding voice (which is somewhere between RP and estuary), and he couldn't for the life of him understand what I said. Another time my brother was in Reno, NV and ordered breakfast at some ihop or somewhere and his accent made the waitress ask 'Are you Belgian?' 'No, I'm English' 'Wow! I've never met anyone from Belgium before!'

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