Do you recognize different accents in your target language?

Hello, everyone.
The other day I watched a videocast from a Brazilian movie critic (I’m not sure this is the right term for this) who said that Brad Pitt fakes a very funny southern accent in the “Inglorious Bastards” movie…
I know this is not essential for understanding, but I must confess that the remark made me feel envious and kind of upset. I can barely distinguish between American, British and Australian, and that with considerable effort. I know from experience that in a big country there are a lot of different accents, but I can’t imagine if one day I’ll be able to distinguish different American accents and even more, notice how funny or not they sound!!
How about you? do you recognise different accents from different regions easily?

Depends on which language.

When listening to French, the most I can say is someone is probably from Quebec because the accent is quite different that of France. However, I can hardly tell whether someone is a native French speaker from Belgian, Switzerland or Luxembourg.

I can’t recognise American English from British while a speaker say “can’t” :)) Moreover, I even can’t recognise different Russian accents :))

I can often tell what region the speaker is from within the US. I can usually spot a Canadian. Definitely a Brit (but not pinpoint him on the map of the UK). I can also tell the difference between Australians and New Zealanders. South African English is a little more difficult to spot, but then again I didn’t spend much time studying their accents.

Don’t just trust your ears. Read up on dialects. There’s a great deal of information on the subject on the Internet. Before you can recognize an accent, you need to learn what to listen to.

Yes, but it depends on the language.

I can usually tell the difference between les Français et les Québécois, but occasionally someone has a more subtle accent and then I’m not 100% sure. For me, differenciating between Spaniards and South Americans is not hard but trying to pinpoint which country in South America they are from is another matter.

Even though Canada is a big country, it has relatively few accents. In the western part of this country, most people pronounce their words basically the same way. Along the Atlantic Ocean, however, Maritimers pronounce the letter “r” quite differently from most other Canadians, especially at the end of words. If you want to distinguish Canadians from Americans, words like “roof” and “about” can often help you determine where the speakers come from.

Astamoore, you’re my hero… how did you achieve this? Thanks for the tip, I’m going to take a look on dialects.
Fortunately, I felt less stupid when I read you’re a professional translator AND a musician (probably with a specially sensitive ear…)
Thank you all folks for sharing your personal experiences (I welcome some more, of course).
I guess I have now a new goal to motivate me to re-start my English studies. :wink:

There are five big accent groups in Spanish-European Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, Southern Cone
(Argentina/Uruguay), Andean, and Mexican. I know that there are accents within Spain as well and probably some regional Latin American accents about which I haven’t got a clue When I started learning Spanish seriously, I learned by watching TV. I learned to comprehend one accent, then another, then another. I actually found it a little bit scary. Mexican Spanish sounded so different to me from another variety I learned first. It took me about six months to understand Southern Cone Spanish, but probably another 3-4 months to understand Mexican Spanish. I also noticed that Mexican Spanish awaited me with
a whole treasure trove of new words and slang. I was a little afraid of learning European Spanish, “What next? I wondered? When will the varieties stop?” However, by that time, my ear had gotten a lot more acclimated to Spanish and now I almost delight in hearing new accents in Spanish. I’d love to hear from native speakers of Spanish, especially Mexicans, because I don’t know much about regional accents.


This is a good link if you would like to know more about different accents in English. It’s from George Mason University in Virginia and has many samples (almost as tasty to my ears as ice cream is for the tastebuds!

You can sample many accents by going to the Speech Accent Archive. This is the address:

(Creative Commons License)

Not that the big regions have just one dialect, but it’s beyond my comprehension how people who know English cannot tell a difference between a Brit and an American, an Irish and a Scot, an Australian and any of the others. Anybody who has watched a decent number of tv series and movies should have been exposed to the various accents.

I think we gradually become more attuned to different accents. At first we cannot tell the difference. That is why I think the issue of regional accents is not important for beginner and even intermediate learners.

I never could really tell Swedish regional accents and I now I can hear the different accents of different villages in different regions of Sweden, for example.

It is quite common for American actors to attempts a southern accent for a role. Not all of them pull it off well.

I think you hit the nail on the head. It takes a decent amount of varied exposure to the language.

Also, Jeff comes from a country where, as far as I’m aware, television is not dubbed at all. Therefore, given the wordwide dominance of English language television (and film and music etc.), someone like Jeff would have probably been able to distinguish between these accents even as a teenager. On the other hand, someone who grew up in France, for example, probably wouldn’t have had anywhere near the level of exposure to different accents that a Swede would have had.


Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I love dialects and phonetics. It’s fascinating how a language that is (virtually) the same in written form can be vastly different in its oral form (to the point where supposedly native speakers cannot understand each other). Maitee gave you an excellent link. Here’s one from me:

Note, however, that it’s a collection of all kinds of accents of English. It includes both native and non-native varieties. What’s great about it is that the recordings feature only two texts, so you can easily follow the differences in pronunciation of the same words.


I know it’s difficult for us to understand how some people cannot hear the difference that seems so obvious to us. But take into account the fact that unless you’re trained to hear particular differences and know which ones pertain to which dialect, it can be quite challenging. What we recognize as a dialect, to an untrained ear my seem like an idiosyncratic feature of a particular speaker. Take the famous Swedish sje sound, for instance. Some of its realizations may sound like a speech impediment (and they do to me). The same goes to the /r/ sound in, say, French, or German. Many African tongues have a variety of click-sounds, which would be difficult to tell apart for a non-specialist. So, unless you know exactly what to look for, you may easily overlook things that are otherwise obvious.

Thanks, Maitte, the site is very interesting. I’ll comment the other issue on your wall.
Well, Jeff, probably I have a bad ear (in fact, I have only one working ear), but in reality the great majority of what I listen to is from the USA. So, I immediately recognise non-Americans as “strange” English. lol Recently I’ve been listening to some British podcasts, so I’m little by little becoming more aware of what constitutes a Brit accent, and separating it from the “strange bag”.
Anyway, you are right in this very important point: I need more exposure to different accents.
Steve, I thought that the northern accents were better considered in the US. Maybe I was induced to think that way because I see NY as a cultural reference similarly to Rio in Brazil.

Ana, A southern accent is considered quite desirable in showbusiness. That is not the case with a New York or Boston accent. Don’t forget that many more people live in the south than in the North East. All cowboy movies require a southern accent, and it seems that come kind of corrupted southern accent is de rigeur for a singer these days,

Hey, Astaamore, thanks a lot, I guess I’m going to have a lot of fun with this site! :wink:

That’s quite interesting, Steve! absolutely unexpected for me. I guess I need to learn some geography before learning accents… lol
Also, that’s valuable information to be used together with the sites proposed by Maittee and Astamoore…
Thanks for the explanation.

Thanks also for the several defenders of my right to ignorance… heheheh