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The importance of a good accent

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
255 messages over 32 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ... 1 ... 31 32 Next >>
Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 1 of 255
09 December 2010 at 6:13pm | IP Logged 
How important is a good accent for your perception of language skills? I ask because again the Nobel Peace Price seremony is tomorrow, which means that the entire Norwegian poulation cringes in anticipation of the whole world listening to the head of the Nobel Commitee, Thorbjørn Jagland's hideous English accent. His English as such, is actually not bad. He has a very broad vocabulary, but his pronunciation is B A D.

I seem to remember that J. Conrad, who was a master of the English language in its written form, also had problems with the spoken form, so what comes across as most fluent to you? Someone with a great vocabulary but a terrible accent, or someone with a limited vocabulary and a flawless accent.

Personally I admit that I tend to be taken in by a good accent. I have difficulties perceiving someone as really good at a language if they have a very bad accent.
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 Message 2 of 255
09 December 2010 at 6:30pm | IP Logged 
It plays a huge role in people's perception of the speaker's level, at least. If the accent is bad, we assume the knowledge is limited and if the accent is good, we presume the speaker has a great grasp of the language.

Have you ever heard a person speak with a great accent, but with poor grammar?

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
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 Message 3 of 255
09 December 2010 at 6:36pm | IP Logged 
No, but I have heard a guy speak with a perfect accent (in Norwegian) because his parents were Norwegian but the family had lived in the US, and the understanding of the language was so low that people actually thought he was retarded.

If you come across as being fluent in a language, yet do not understand a lot of the things that are being said to you, it is not always easy to understand for others, that it is simply because you do not understand the language, and that it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 09 December 2010 at 6:43pm

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 Message 4 of 255
09 December 2010 at 7:05pm | IP Logged 
A bad accent doesn't bother me at all, as long as I can understand what it being said. I actually like to hear English spoken with a foreign accent. So, I would say that I'm more impressed by a great vocabulary and a terrible accent (again, as long as the person can be understood.)

I did have a couple of math and physics professors in college with accents so bad that I couldn't understand most of what they said. That was awful.
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 Message 5 of 255
09 December 2010 at 8:03pm | IP Logged 
It depends really. As long as the speak is understandable it is OK. Most accents in Europe are neutral enough that a decent accent is possible. But then there are English native speakers that are quite incomprehensible to others because their regional accent is so different.

Accent is something that one can change with practice. But if bad habits develop then it is difficult to correct them in order to improve the accent. I would say also that a very bad accent often gives the appearance of a bad speaker. So anyone wishing to truly master a language should at least work on a good accent.

Most foreign English speakers I have met with a bad accent tend to not speak English well because accents are improved with immersion and exposure which also improves the quality of language at the same time.
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 Message 6 of 255
09 December 2010 at 8:27pm | IP Logged 
Two types of accents for people who might actually know English well but are really quite incomprehensible to me tend to be the Jamaicans and Chinese.

The Rastafarian accent is just so thick and laced with idioms that it is quite hard to understand.

Also, having much exposure to Chinese here, I've always had a hard time trying to understand what my friends parents say to me and my old college math professors too.

I'd have preferred it if they spoke slower (indicating less fluency), but with a better accent.

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 Message 7 of 255
09 December 2010 at 8:32pm | IP Logged 
There are many European politicians who are much worse than Thorbjørn Jagland. One example is the European Union's new German energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger whose English you can hear in the following video.
If you don't speak German, move the time slider to 00:26. If you don't understand his English either, his speech is repeated with partial subs starting at 01:54.

Edited by Doitsujin on 09 December 2010 at 8:32pm

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 Message 8 of 255
09 December 2010 at 8:39pm | IP Logged 
Working in the environment with high number of highly educated non-native speakers,
I've noticed that there is a wide spectrum of acceptable accents, ranging from
'understandable without problems but so obviously foreign', to near-native and native.
I've seen a lot of people with a distinctive foreign accent, but excellent grasp of
English otherwise. I have to admit that accent is the last on my list of criteria for
judging language abilities (unless, of course, it is hindering communication).

Picking up accent is a funny thing. Immersion is not enough (at least not for me), it
also requires a certain emotional response to particular accent for person to start
picking it from the immersion environment. For example, after only a week in Buenos
Aires I started changing the way I pronounce Spanish, but even after four years in NZ I
don't think I have picked up anything of Kiwi accent (although my English has improved
greatly in other aspects). The only English accent that I am 'emotional' about (that
is to say I have a desire to imitate it) is (slightly attenuated) Scottish accent. I
simply love it and I'm guessing that if I was to live in Scotland for some time, I
would probably pick up the accent to a certain degree.

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