Does your Accent Matter?
Many people learning a second language seem to have this obsession with having the perfect accent, as if being able to speak another language is not enough, they need to have the accent to go with it.
But what is the perfect accent?
As an Australian who has travelled and lived abroad for many years, I have heard my fair share of English accents of native speakers and also those of foreigners and let me tell you, sometimes it has been easier to understand the foreigners with all the slang that some of us natives speak.
I know I may be generalising here but have you heard how some Australians and Americans speak English with their accent when deep in a conversation with friends? Joining sentences and cutting the ends off some words.
Or have you ever tried to understand someone from Scotland or Ireland when they’re speaking a hundred miles an hour?
Sometimes it can be difficult.
Even English natives from one country, find it hard to understand some other English natives, let alone foreigners speaking English.
Maybe it’s not the accent, but the way we talk that matters.
I have met a lot of people from all over the world along my travels who have been able to speak multiple languages. One girl in particular I remember who spoke English quite well, kept apologising for her bad English accent.
Never mind that she was Polish, and it was the 5th language she could speak along with German, Russian, and French! I kept thinking, why should she apologise for her accent when me the monolingual at the time, could only speak English. A credit to her for even being able to be understood.
That’s the issue here, being understood. Talking about accents always gets me thinking because to me, it isn’t the accent that is the problem, it is how you speak with that accent.
As long as you follow a few simple rules, no matter what your accent is, you will be able to be understood. And that is the main aim right, to be able to converse and be understood by who you are talking to?
The Speaking Rules
Say the sentence clearly and say each word on it’s own without joining words together.
Ok, not too slow so that the listener gets bored with you, but don’t go trying to talk 100 miles an hour, and not giving time for your actual point to sink in.
Open your Mouth
Don’t mumble with your lips half closed, make an effort to open your mouth and let the words out.
Leave a Space between sentences
Let the sentence be understood before you start a new one. Leave a second or two in between and take a breath.
A “Clear Accent” will come in time
By speaking often with native speakers you are more likely to pick up the accent they speak with, so if that is your aim and you really want to sound native, then just keep practicing.
I have been speaking Italian for about 5 years now, and although I can have a conversation with anyone, and have no problem being understood, I definitely don’t sound like a native.
It used to really annoy me, but now I think that I went to all the effort of learning a new language so that I could communicate, so as long as I can get around using it what is the problem?
Many people I meet tell me that I don’t have a strong English accent, sometimes people can’t pick where I am from as I tend to speak pretty neutral, but I think having lived abroad so long, I have naturally adapted the way I speak. Having worked as an English teacher to foreigners, I had to learn to be understood.
At the end of the day, everyone has some sort of accent, even speakers in the same country have different accents, but they are still able to get along.
If you are worried about how you are speaking just remember that you learned a language to be able to communicate with others who speak the same language. And if you are doing that, then you have reached your goal.
“When a person has an accent, it means he can speak one more language than you do” – Fernando Lamas
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