Learning a language with a "native" accent

What happens if someone can imitate a range of accents in their target language I am wondering.
I think I saw Richard Simcott and Suzanna (I can’t recall her surname) being able to to do that. That would mean their ears are tuned into minute differences within that language. However, if someone is that tuned in that would also mean he would be very aware of how he is speaking, ie with a Southern Spanish accent of one from Leon for example. How does he choose the accent so that it still sounds natural I am wondering. Perhaps there is some sort of standard accent which is being used.

To remain ‘me’ in English I mustn’t slip into an accent. The minute I try to do Bristolian, for example, I feel happy, begin to smile. If I do Northern Irish, my whole voice changes, I become much harsher in expression. These are my biases/prejudices which creep into the way I speak. I used to be pretty good at placing UK accents. With French and Spanish, however, I can only detect differences between northern and southern accents. I simply cannot hear a difference between people from Paris and those from Bruxelles! Apologies to both categories should it be needed! Only in my standard English or German voice can I express the full range of emotions. Is that what you were asking about?

Sanne - Thanks for your input. It is possible I did not explain it very well. I mean if someone is learning languages. This particular person (I quoted an example above) is very good at tuning in on that language and can even detect minute differences within that language. Someone with an astute ear like that could obviously pick up any accent. However, he would also be completely aware he was using an accent (like you in your native tongue). I was just wondering what a person like that would do. There are people with a fine ear like that. They can hear the tiniest of difference even though it is not their native language.

Then there is another scenario. You hear it a lot amongst footballers from abroad who have come to play football for an English club. There have been several instances of these football players ending up with this very local accent and sounding completely native because of it. I seem to remember there were some foreign players who had ended up speaking with a scouse accent. Obviously if they can do it, anyone can :slight_smile: My theory is they just picked up the language and therefore you just end up imitating those around you. With formal instruction this somehow does not happen as easily (one ending up with a native accent). It seem strange.

I agree. Your second scenario reminds me of the ex-husband of a friend of mine. He came from Beirut and learned English from her and her family. He now sounds like a right Geordie.

I’d say that we can all learn - with enough patience and application - to hear the tiniest of differences unless we are hearing impaired - that is why I am so frustrated about my French/Belgian ignorance. It just seems that some people are particularly quick at picking up an accent. Employing it successfully is a step which not everyone can master, alas.

I just see it as there being people who are better at imitating accents than others (whether this is a “natural” ability or something they have trained is another issue). I’m sure this does help in their foreign languages, but I think you have to have a very high level in the language to be able to switch accurately between different accents (even if you are good at them!).

I once saw an American guy on YouTube who was brilliant with different English accents. His Australian accent was absolutely perfect (well, as perfect as an Australian accent can be :)). Then I read somewhere that he was also interested in foreign languages, and that he had been studying French for a while, so I found a video where he was actually speaking French. I can tell you that neither his intonation nor his accent was “good” compared to someone like Steve or Richard (not to mention Luca!), but his level wasn’t very advanced so he probably hadn’t had THAT much exposure yet. Bottom line: I don’t think it’s possible (even for those who are skilled with accents) to accurately imitate various different accents in one’s target language unless one has an very high level.

@SanneT - Don’t worry about the French/Belgian issue, I’m in the same boat. I usually can’t tell until they say “septante” or something like that :slight_smile:

Found this clip of this Scandinavian footballer Jan Molby. He just picked it up.

He was about 20 when he moved to Liverpool and couldn’t speak much English when he first moved there. He has definitely gone native!

Poor Parisians, if they knew that they sound like Belgians I don’t know how they would take it. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t think I can speak with a perfect Australian accent even though I was born in Australia and have lived for 64 years here. It is a matter of definition. Supposedly I am one of those Australians who ‘put on’ an almost ‘refined’ type of accent. The kind of accent used by Steve Irwin is certainly not mine!

Sorry Peter, I was judging your concept of what a ‘perfect’ Australian accent is. Of course, I have no idea what kind of Australian accent you were referring to. I only know that some of my ‘rellies’ (extended family members) speak a kind of English that I find a bit irritating. They don’t think so, of course, it is normal to them. It depends on how a person’s parents and other role models spoke in his or her formative years.

Well I guess it’s defined by whether or not you sound foreign to Australians. You might have ‘received’ pronunciation, which is probably closer to some kind of standard accent from England. In any case, I don’t think there are many of us in big cities who would like to sound like Steve Irwin. It’s interesting, by the way, that you used “rellies”. Here, in Melbourne, I think we’d use “relos”, but it’s the same idea.

Actually, I did exaggerate a bit. I do not exactly sound British. Although when in Ethiopia several people have thought that my accent was British rather than Australian, people in Australia seldom think so.

What are the major accents in Australia if you were to mention just a few? I guess we tend to think they all just sounds like people from Neignbours (Thank you Kylie…).

@jorgis Loved your comment about my difficulty with distinguishing between Parisians and Belgians.

I know it is off-topic, but do you have any pointers, apart from the difference in 70, 80 and 90? I’d so love to sharpen my ear…

SanneT - actually joke aside:-) there is one immediate difference between the Parisians and anyone else for that matter and that should be easy to spot since this is the first word you would encounter: BonjourE. They say it with an exagerrated rising tone on the second syllable and and then a sort of E at the end. I wont go into the body language that accompanies it :slight_smile:

Ha! Thank you! I take it the Parisians would then also say “BonsoirE”? What about the things inbetween - how do I identify a Belgian in a slightly longer conversation that doesn’t include greetings or numbers?

I dont think it is prominent in that word. I guess it it because the jour already is a “u” sound. in the soir it does not sound so natural. But definitely watch out for the theatrical “BonjourE”.

I have only lived in Paris so I do not know the features of the Belgian accent. It was my understanding the Belgians did not have strong accents if they were solely francophone but this is only an impression.

I have a Parisian accent, but I don’t say neither “bonjourE” nor “bonsoirE”.
The main differences I think of between Parisian and Belgian accents are the pronunciation of the “r”, and the rhythm (very different !).

The movie “C’est arrivé près de chez vous” is a very good example of the Belgian accent and humour.

Jujule -I think you missed the wit intended here.

Having said that, you actually hear it a lot in Paris and not really elsewhere in France. Especially in the corporate world and service professions. Definitely a theatrical Bonjour! But you are of course right not everyone says that. And not everyone says “Wai” for oui but you hear that a lot in Paris too.

Thank you both!

I don’t really know what the Parisian accent is, but Belgians and people who live in the north of France have a particular accent. It doesn’t sound serious to us, and nor does Quebec French.

As Juju said, I think it’s mostly the rythm that differs, not the vocabulary (except the 70, 80, 90 thing). The way they pronounce the end of the sentences often betrays them too.

Try to listen to Belgian content, eventually you’ll notice the difference! If you want a quite funny movie with thick Belgian accents, try Dikkenek. It’s not worth an Oscar but it’s funny, at least from the point of view of a French who likes to make fun of the Belgian accent. I remember having a hard time understanding the dialogues during the first 10 minutes.