What are the levels of English?
I'd define them as:
1. Basic English - grammar, vocabulary of 1-2 thousands words, harsh accent.
2. Culture English - reading without a dictionary, vocabulary above 5000 words, many words combinations, idioms and phrases. Fluency in spoken English.
3. Professional English - undersatanding idioms, sland. Thinking in rich English. Speaking without evident accent. Understanding dialects and accents at a level comparable to a native speaker.
In practice there is an additional level - professional English in a special field (tourism, transportation etc.)
A few things to say...
1. Everyone has an "evident accent", native speakers included. Also, I think it would be so much more interesting if EFL (English as a foreign language) learners learnt the Scottish, Yorkshire, Newfoundland, and Boston accents instead of boring old RP or General American.
2. Most native speakers do not have a comprehensive understanding of dialects and accents. Every EFL learner on Antimoon knows more about accents and dialects than the average native English speaker. Of course, all of us native speakers here on Antimoon are accent and dialect fanatics but we are the exception.
3. Do EFL learners actually count the number of English words they know?
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
OK, but there is a difference between an accent which belongs to a region, such as Yorkshire, and one that is a result of learning English as a foreign language (for example, a consider a Russian speaking English with a heavy Russian accent). In the latter case, this will be due to one's native vowel or consonant sounds hampering the correct pronunciation of English words.
I think accent are fluency are completely different matters. Here in Hungary I have met a lot of people who speak with an unmistakably Hungarian accent, yet they are very fluent.
As for learning a regional variety of English: I think you have to live in a region for a long time to be able to use its accent, or you must have a native teacher who uses the accent of his or her native region (I heard of a teacher from Ulster here in Hungary whose pupils spoke with a clear Belfast accent). Otherwise you cannot help your speech being influenced by your own native pronunciation. I think my own speech is closest to standard British English (such as you hear in movies or the BBC), but there is still a Hungarian flavour to it.
However, as long as people understand you, there's no reason to worry about your accent. My experience is that if foreigners speak Hungarian with a foreign accent, it makes you more sympathetic and more ready to help them out.
I think that accent is not a good thing.
We don't like any accent here, even if it comes from Russian areas - Caucases, North or rural accent.
When I came to Moscow, sometimes people in Universities asked me: are you from a village? They meant that my way of talk was too simple and loose.
People appreciate some varieties of spoken language, and in a certain situation we need to speak with certain pronunciation and style.
My mathematics professor in university spoke with a very strong Russian accent and I loved it!
I think you are right when you say that most people don't like some accents of their own language, because it very often marks bad social status, or a problematic group (I can well imagine that most people don't like somebody speaking with a Caucasian accent in Russia). And also here in Hungary, sometimes people find it laughable if your pronunciation is characteristic of a given region (especially in Budapest) - they can say it is boorish (not in your face, but perhaps behind your back).
However, I think that it is a different matter if you speak a foreign language with an accent. Nobody can expect that you should speak a language with a native-like pronunciation, that would be unrealistic. My experience is that speakers of a foreign language are more tolerant with foreigners who speak with an accent. On the other hand, if you want to be taken seriously, then you should have at least a fair degree of fluency. Well that IS important. This is what learning a language should be about.
By the way, I would be interested how those of you who do not speak English as a mother tongue have achieved fluency. For me it is useful to have as much input at hand as possible: either by reading or listening. This helps me acquire certain phrases, idioms or turns of speech which native speakers use. But I would like to hear more tips from you.
The level of acceptance of an accent certainly depends on the accent. For instance in Russia, if you speak with a Georgian accent most people think that it's cool whereas somebody with an American accent is likely to be mugged.
Generally, however, unless a country is poor (like Russia) or very socially divided (like Britain or India), your accent should not cause problems as long as people can understand you.
<<or very socially divided (like Britain or India)>>
Not sure I've seen you in here before...I will check out your postings...but what you said was interesting.
I'm not aware of any "very socially divided" Britain. Do you think that accent in the UK still determines a person's social class and status in a big way? Are you saying we have some sort of caste system? You equated Britain with India! What evidence do you have? In case you haven't noticed we are in the 21st century, so maybe you are locked into some sort of time warp, and you are probably about 100 years old? I'm 22 and no way do I think this country is socially divided in the way you intimated.
Would you say the USA, for instance, is socially divided on the same basis? Check back through some of the threads on the Southern accents there.
I would welcome your elucidation on what you said, please.
Russia is not poor, though many people are poor in Russia
I second Damian. The UK is only as socially divided as the US, France, and any other first-world country. There are no more wide gaps of culture and behaviour between the aristocracy, the gentry, the urban workers, and the peasants. As in the rest of the first world, class divisions are based on financial status, not birth: the wealthy, the bourgeois (or "white-collar"), the proletariat (or "blue-collar"), and the poor.
Long live Russia! [Bursts into song] Rossiya svyaschennaya nasha dyerzhava, Rossiya lyubimaya nasha strani!