Second-language accents

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I truly don’t understand accents. My only experience is as an American learning Spanish; it was stressed pretty hard to use the Spanish accent – that had at least equal weight with confugating verbs. I’m sure that my Spanish accent is absolutely crappy and I’m easily identifiable as an American, but as far as I’m aware English to Spanish stresses the accent.

What confuses me is when people from, say, India, speak English, they often have a strong accent. They stress odd syllables and pronounce letters differently than they “should.” I know it’s difficult in some cases to form sounds from another language due to them just not existing in the original language, but…like English doesn’t roll it’s Rs, yet I do when I speak Spanish (again, badly I’m sure)?

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19 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

You probably also have a strong accent when you speak Spanish. Foreign language words are difficult to pronounce and people will generally have an accent in their second language even if they try not to.

Anonymous 0 Comments

As babys and toddlers we have excellent hearing and start learning a language by babbling the tones/sounds and copying the noises we hear.

As we get older our hearing becomes worse and we can’t learn new sounds as well as before. Also we can’t hear our own accents when speaking. That’s how they develop

Anonymous 0 Comments

Ive been speaking English longer than ive spoken Spanish, but since it was my first language and i grew up just speaking Spanish, i still have an accent when speaking English

Anonymous 0 Comments

It will depend on how your native language compares to the language you’re learning. Spanish people also tend to have strong accents when speaking english, which indicates that the languages just sound too different.

I’m a native portuguese speaker (from Portugal), and that means I find some languages easier to get the accent of, even if I don’t speak them (greek, for example, is quite easy, they mostly have the same sounds, so with training I could speak it pretty well), whereas others are basically impossible. Also, this doesn’t need to go both ways – if a language A has more sounds than language B, it’s much easier to go from A to B than the opposite. Portuguese people can generally speak Spanish quite well, whereas the opposite is just not true – it just so happens that portuguese is phonetically more difficult. This also applies to english – portuguese people, on average, have a much subtler accent when speaking english than spaniards.

Slavic speakers (polish, ukrainians, etc.) are very good with both romance languages and english, in my experience, for example, whereas the opposite is just not true.

Anonymous 0 Comments

try writing with your non-dominant hand? you can do it but it looks crappy. because your dominant hand got all the attention on how to write when you were young it does a better job, faster. your vocal skills are similar. as a kid you practiced English over and over and over again, learning all the sounds associated with it and how to pronounce them. a personal example, my wife has English as her 3rd language, but learned young enough to only have a very slight accent (though she learned British English before American), when we were still dating i said “Dubai” as an american and got corrected over and over with “it’s not ‘Dubai’, it’s ‘Dubai’.” after a little while and lots of practice I could finally hear it. it is “Dₕubai”. that D with a faint trailing “hu” doesn’t exist in English, so i could literally not hear it until exposed to Sanskrit based languages for a while. in Hindi W and V have large overlap due to both not existing, in Japanese the same is true with R and L (that’s where a lot of the racist stereotypes come from). Everyone learns all the rules of their childhood languages really well, but then as adults end up using the rules of their native languages on other languages that it doesn’t apply to.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There is no “Spanish accent”, Spanish speakers all have regional accents of their own which affects their pronunciation of different words. Also, English does roll its R’s, just not in your dialect of it.

All humans are born with the ability (or develop it very, very early) to make all human sounds, but practice and what we hear in the first few months of our lives affects what we retain the ability to say/use. So being from a region that doesn’t make use of some sounds will impact your ability to make those sounds should you ever need to in the future.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s not just that certain sounds don’t exist (though that is one major issue). Some sounds that exist in both languages at least approximately may also be pronounced subtly differently, or may be more or less likely to be used in specific contexts.

And, as you touched upon, different languages also have different patterns of stress, pitch and intonation when speaking.

Most formal language learning tries to teach speaking with a native-like accent in order to account for these differences, but as you’ve learned yourself, this is actually quite hard to manage with every variable that can differ between languages, and the common types of differences that aren’t easy to get rid of generally wind up being the markers of a specific foreign accent when a language is spoken by a non-native.

There’s also a further complicating factor illustrated by your example of the Indian accent, in that India has a fairly large English-speaking population, and the English that is spoken there has been influenced by the other languages in the region, but has effectively become its own variant of English that is used even by native speakers or people who are quite providence with English.

Ultimately, accents exist because even if you know and make an effort to try to modify your native speech patterns, it’s very difficult to do, like a right-handed person trying to learn to write left-handed. Some people will be very successful at it, but most people are not going to be able to match the level of precision they have with their dominant hand, nor speak with an accent that perfectly matches all the various inflections of a native speaker, even if they try to.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s worth noting that when someone in India learns English or someone from the Democratic Republic of the Congo learns French or someone from Bolivia learns Spanish that they’re not doing it so that they can speak and understand people from England or France or Spain, they’re doing it primarily so that they can speak with other Indians / Congolese / Bolivians who might not share their hyper-local home language. So the most important part is learning it in a way that’s consistent with other people in the area, which means learning it in a way with common stress patterns and consonant pronunciations with most of the local spoken home languages.

Anonymous 0 Comments

> They stress odd syllables and pronounce letters differently than they “should.”

Indian English stresses odd syllables and pronounce letters differently than they should in the Queen’s English.

American English stresses odd syllables and pronounce letters differently than they should in the Queen’s English.

Did your teachers not stress that you should use the real English pronunciation in school? Did they just let you speak with a strong American accent?

Yes, because Indian English and American English are basically considered unique dialects now, and not mispronounciations.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Accents happen because of speakers using word stress, pronunciations etc. from their first language. Russian-English is a very good example. Native Russian speakers often use the hard or soft sounds from Russian to pronounce English words, despite the fact English doesn’t have these specific hard or soft sounds. It happens more if you learned the language as an adult. If you are essentially bilingual and started learning the second language as a toddler by listening to native speakers, you will have developed the manner of speaking of native speakers – word order, word stress, mannerisms, sounds, etc. Speaking is just emulation of sounds you have heard others say, really.