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The Problem with Accents and Languages

It is fascinating to listen to different people learning a new language at the same time. As well as the fact that they will all learn the words in a different order there is also the dreaded issue of the accent.

When we start off studying a second language we are all painfully aware that we are saying foreign words in our normal accent and that it doesn’t sound all that great. I remember learning Spanish in Quito with a Northern Irish guy a few years ago. His accent seemed to get stronger when saying words in Spanish and it was weird to listen to. Even now I can recall his voice and speak Spanish with a Belfast accent if requested to do. It is a skill which very rarely comes in handy. So what problem with accents and languages might you come across?

You Can’t Lose Yours

It can be horribly frustrating to have a reasonable grasp on a foreign tongue but be instantly marked down as a foreigner by everyone because of your accent. In my case, my frustration reached a high point when I worked in a bank in Spain for a while. I spent my days speaking a mixture of English and Spanish, and my Spanish accent (which had been reasonably neutral beforehand) degenerated into a mess. This proved to me that learning an accent well is something which takes practise more than anything. I had stopped speaking Spanish as much as before but, more importantly, I had stopped thinking in it. I used more English than Spanish in the bank so it seemed ludicrous to think in Spanish and then translate it into my mother tongue. My accent only started to improve again once I left the hellhole, I mean bank, and started thinking in Spanish again. What I am really saying here is that you can lose your accent if you practise a lot and think in your target language. Translating from English in your head is going to result in a mangled accent in most cases, I believe.

You Sound as Though You Know More Than You Do

I also met someone who, surprisingly, had the opposite problem. She had a great Spanish accent but only know about 10 words in the language. This is presumably not a very common problem but we can think, in a wider sense, of the issue which comes when people think you know more of the language than you do. This might be because you speak in a fluent way or because you use some intelligent words. In any case, it is a problem when you don’t know the basics of a language but you give the impression that you do. In this case, you should start again with the basics and build up your knowledge from the ground floor, so that every aspect of your language skills gives out the same powerful impression.

Learn a language well from the start and you will find that you don’t need to worry about your accent. With the right studying it will come naturally, so give it a try and see what kind of accent you can get.