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Chrisp
What are your thoughts on accent reduction?

So...is it worth dedicating lots of time to accent reduction in order to sound more like a native speaker or would you prefer to spend that time developing your skills in the TL? (With the proviso that you are already 'understandable' and communication is not impaired.)

The reason I ask is that I've watched clips of several polyglots speaking multiple languages, which attracted quite a few negative comments from native speakers who criticised their pronunciation, somewhat harshly I think.This got me to thinking about my own accent in Spanish where I have problems with 'r' sounds in particular. And if the goal is to eventually achieve native fluency maybe it's time to address these issues ( or just smile and not let it be an issue!)

I'd be interested to hear what other people here think.

Feb 22, 2018 9:35 AM
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I actually think the learners of a foreign language care more about accent elimination or reduction than do the native speakers hearing them speak. Surprisingly, few native speakers are bothered by accents as long as the person speaking can be easily understood. At the same time, I think that pronunciation is the easiest part of learning a foreign language because there are just so many things to know. The problem is, it's a matter of language learning that is given too little attention. Teachers normally don't teach anything about how to pronounce the foreign language they teach other than to say, "repeat after me." That is guaranteed to produce an accent, because no language has any sound in it that perfectly overlaps with another language. There are close sounds, but none identical. And, many sounds don't even exist between languages to one extent or another. 

Learning accent reduction or elimination is a bit like learning how to play a musical instrument. Take a piano. No one would sit you down at a piano and ask you to just watch and listen to them play and then repeat what the learner just saw. That would be ridiculous. But, language teachers do this with pronunciation all the time. You have to be shown what keys on a piano to hit to make certain sounds and how to blend the sounds to produce music. Pronunciation is the same. You have to be taught how the muscles in your mouth, your throat, and your vocal chords make sounds in a foreign language and be shown how to reproduce those sounds in order to eliminate an accent. It's also a bit like speech therapy. In fact, accent reduction/elimination is in fact exactly that: speech therapy. But, it can be done, and there's only so much to know. It requires practice, and understanding of how sounds are made in the target language and time to overcome an accent. Whether it's worth it or is necessary, depends on your goals and desires. 


February 23, 2018

My two cents is that it's not a huge problem as long as you can be understood well. It's worth noting here that there can be a lot of dialectal variation within the same language, so there can be a lot of ways to say a sound written the same way. Like the English 'r' which is always pronounced in America and Canada and some parts of Britain, but not in most of Britain as well as Australia and the US.

That being said, if you want to come across as well-spoken then learning the proper phonology can make a difference. As another example, the pronunciation of the English 'TH'' sound tends to vary a lot, and the ''incorrect'' pronunciations can have a bit of a stigma depending on the environment. 

To sum up, it depends on the environment you see yourself spending the most time in. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in formal settings like in business where you will speak Spanish then it's a pretty good idea. Otherwise, don't worry too much (unless you're like me and you love phonology =) )

February 22, 2018

My answer was more about the fact that people can imitate accents without making any effort. Surrounding in which we grow up sometime doesn't play a big role and some people seems to struggle a lot with learning sounds of different language. That doesn't mean that people are not able to make an improvement.

KP,

It seems that you are going through other people posts very often and try to catch a phrase that can have a deeper political meaning and it's correlated with your assumptions. 

It's delightful when the question of minorities, people who are immigrants, emigrants or "guest workers" are raised without any original intentions. It looks like it's a very often thing on this website to check someone's place of living and start making assumptions about what the interlocutor might think based on his place of living, politics etc.

I switch accents in Serbian myself. I leave you alone to guess why. 


February 24, 2018

KP, 

those are people in Serbia who are bilingual. Maybe you are not aware of the fact, but people have mixed marriages all over the world. :)

I know bilingual members of the same family who speak Serbian completely differently. I didn't mean on a member of any minority who is surrounded with a group of people. I was referring to people who live in big cities and grew up in bilingual families. 

We don't use term immigrant in Serbia that often. In Serbia minorities have education in their mother tongue, their own institutions  and news broadcasting in their mother tongue. Several different languages are official. The idea of multiculturalism is not comparable with the USA, maybe more with Switzerland. :)

You seems to be interested in Serbia a lot. Maybe you can visit it and check what kind of status Russian immigrants had in Serbian society after the October Revolution. 

February 24, 2018

When I studied German at University (1977), I bought a book entitled "The Sounds of English and German." It was kind of a fluke that I bought it. It was all about pronunciation, and it was authored by a very brilliant writer and University professor named William G. Moulton, a linguist and language teacher at a very prestigious East Coast Ivy League College, like Harvard or Yale.  Through reading the book, I was able to eliminate any accent I might have otherwise had. He wrote: 

"When a student sets out to learn a new language, he is willing- intellectually- to accept the fact that it is different and that he must learn some new and unfamiliar sounds to speak it properly. At the same time, he is so imprisoned within the world of his native English that learning these new words and sounds can be a very formidable task indeed. This matter of being "imprisoned" within the world of his native English manifests itself in two different ways. First of all, it is a matter of habit. Through thousands and thousands of hours of practice the adult or teenage student has built up a set if muscular habits which make him a virtual virtuoso in the pronunciation of English sounds. The muscular habits are so marvelously formed that they almost automatically exclude the possibility of pronouncing anything BUT English sounds.....Aside from this matter of muscular habits, the student is imprisoned within his native English in another, more subtle way. We stated above that the student may be willing intellectually to accept the fact that the sounds of German are different from those of English. Quite often, however, he is not emotionally able to do this. The sounds of English constitute for him all that is normal in human speech; anything else strikes him as distinctly abnormal."

Good observations.

W.G. Moulton, 1962, The University of Chicago Press, pp.1-2. 








February 24, 2018
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Chrisp
Language Skills
Czech, English
Learning Language
Czech