How to speak a foreign language without accent

Ori   Monday, October 25, 2004, 21:04 GMT
I happen to live in Israel. I can assure you I hear my language pronounced in lots of foreign accent, many times. The more common of them are Russian and Amharic accents (since most of the new immigrants to Israel are from Russia and Ethiopia), along with Arabic, American, French and other accents. I have to admit that I've never had a problem understanding an immigrant because of his/her accent, needless to say I've never judged him/her by his/her accent.

In my opinion, judging people by their accent is not much different from judging them by their race, gender and religion. That's not the way people should behave in any case, especially in a case their langauge claims to be international.
Steve K   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 00:40 GMT
Ori. Are you more impressed by an American immigrant to Israel who in a short period of time learns to speak Hebrew with relatively little accent, or by an American immigrant who makes no effort to pronounce Hebrew like a native speaker?
Ori   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 01:44 GMT
Honestly, I am not impressed by those who make efforts to talk not in their natural accent. When you talk to a person, you want to feel you're talking to a real person who speaks in his/her real voice, not to an actor who changes his/her accent in order to impress you.
Steve K   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 02:54 GMT
All other things being equal, is your impression of the two Americans in my example any different?
Steve K   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 03:33 GMT

I just cannot let go on this subject. Speaking a language with a foreign accent is an imperfection. Race, religion or gender are not. Why do I say that a foreign accent is an imperfection? Because it is subject to improvement or further perfection. It is up to the ability and the motivation of the speaker. That is not the case with race, gender or even religion. (I am not a believer of religions so they are equal in my view, equally irrelevant to my life)

If someone speaks a language imperfectly it does not make that person a worse person. People who do not speak that language my be the best of all. However, in terms of how well they speak the language, if we judge their ability to speak the language, a strong foreign accent is not desirable whereas a native-speaker like accent is. I do not see how this point can be argued.
Ori   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 07:34 GMT
You can also change your gender, your skin's color and your religion (Atheism is also a sort of religion, in many cases). It's all up to your ability and motivation. How much you really desire to act against your nature.

Anyway, why is speaking English with Spanish or Arabic accents considered an imperfection, whereas both British and American accents (which are totally different accents) are considered perfect? Is it an international language or not?
Steve K   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 15:55 GMT
Gender, race and religion are not skills. Language is. A language learner needs a model of correct usage and of how to pronounce the sounds of a new language. The closer the learner comes to the standard of the model the better.

If an English learner chooses as a model Singapore English, Indian English or Australian English then that is what they learn. No problem. It is rarer for a learner to deliberatly choose Spanish or Arabic pr German English as a model. Usually the model for English learning is a native speaker, regardless of which variant.

As I said originally Ori, too much PC always clouds one's view of reality.
DaVinci   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 18:13 GMT
I fully agree with Steve that deliberately choosing a language model that's based on a non-native accent doesn't normally make sense - apart from certain exceptions such as actor's needs and when they have to take on certain accents in their roles (btw., has anyone seen the movie The Party, starring Peter Sellers and which I find a hilarious and wonderful example where even native English speakers have changed their "accent").

On the other hand it is understandable if the big bulk of language learners might not really bother to get rid of their own native accent - be it national pride (?), lack of own ability/capability or/and simply because it might be a too cumbersome and time consuming process as Mxsmanic indicated earlier and which takes a lot of motivation and energy.

However, for the people who really do bother to try to speak as close to a native person as possible I still wonder whether there is nothing else apart from what's been already said - I mean:

What about eg. one of these sound recording softwares that show you visually the difference between your own pronunciation and the original one? Are they a waste of money? Or a more efficient way? Any experience?
Jordi   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 19:01 GMT
I fully agree with Steve K. and DaVinci.
Jordi   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 19:06 GMT
A question for Ori. Since Modern Hebrew only has slightly more than 100 years and the State of Israel 56, is there such a thing as a native Hebrew accent. I imagine native Hebrew accents must be quite different in different regions since people arrived from so many countries and established in different areas in very recent times. Is there a Standard accent in the media? Could you please tell us if there is such a thing as a Standard Hebrew accent in Israel and how it came into being?
Ori   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 21:44 GMT
To Jordi:

It's common to say that the only languages which are pronounced without any accent are Hebrew and Esperanto. The five vowel sounds are pronouced in a smooth way without special demands, the same about the consonants. The only exceptions are the R's (rolled R in Esperanto, while the Hebrew version is quite similar to the German R).

So there is definitely a standard Hebrew accent in the media and among the native speakers. Since Israel is a small country, the accent is the same in all of the regions. I may say that the standard accent is acctually speaking *without* any accent along with pronouncing the Israeli R corectly.

Since it is quite complicated to understand by reading, I suggest that you try to hear 'Radio Lelo Hafsaka' by one of the following links (just copy and paste in the address bar):



(But you will have to wait until the morning, because till 4:00 GMT they broadcast music continuously)

To you all:

Well, there is a proverb that says: when one tells you you are a donkey, don't believe, but when everybody tells you you are a donkey they probably right...

So I considered all your arguments very carefully and I found them very sensible. Nevertheless, my aspiration is that a real international language should be pronounced in the natural accent of each nation, regardless to whether it is a native accent of the language or not. You can call it a PC dream if you want to.
Steve K   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 00:44 GMT
If I want to learn Hebrew I will want to learn it from an Israeli. I will throw myself into being an Israeli, read about Israelis, listen to them, imagine myself an Israeli, forget that I am an English-speaking Canadian, and if I do it with intensity, I will succeed. The closer I get to sounding like an Israeli the happier I will be.

My dream is that language learning will become easier and undertaken by more people. One single international language will be less necessary because we will all have more common languages to choose from. Esperanto, the language of no culture, is not likely to be one of them. It is clean of the influence of any "powerful" language. But this sterility condemns it to stunted growth.

I consider conventional language teaching, for example much of the study of second language teaching taught in university, a lot of grammatical detail, discussions of phonemes, sociolinguistics, etc. to be the major obstacle to achieving this dream.

I humbly yet firmly believe that the system we have devised at, while only available for learning English at the present time, can eventually be a breakthrough for learning all languages, including live languages spoken by very few people. I apologize ahead of time for once again mentioning our site and anticipate much negative comment from all.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 04:33 GMT
Ideally any language should be pronounced identically by everyone using that language, as this reduces ambiguity to zero and makes for the most efficient and clear communication between users of the language. All differences in pronunciation engender misunderstanding.
Ori   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 10:42 GMT

Here is the difference between us. I merely learn English, and that's all. I don't imagine myself as an Englishman and I don't forget that I am a Hebrew-speaking Israeli. Since it has become an international language (more or less), English doesn't belong only to the English people, but to all the people in this world.

I'm not sure that I've completely understood what you've meant in: "One single international language will be less necessary because we will all have more common languages to choose from". Would you be good enough to re-explain it to me?
Steve K   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 13:55 GMT
If you know four languages and I know four languages including English German and French, we do not have to choose English as our common language.

You wrote- "English doesn't belong only to the English people, but to all the people in this world." This is a meaningless statement of the kind that intellectuals are fond of. English is the language of native English-speaking peoples. It is their usage and pronunciation that we seek to imitate when we learn English, ditto for Spanish, French, Turkish, Arabic etc.

I think Renan said "We do not belong to our language but to ourselves, because we are moral beings." I always advise learners to forget their linguistic and national identity when learning a new language. If the goal is to learn the language well and quickly, the best thing to do is to lose the consciousness of yourself as different. When I am with Chinese, Japanese, French or other people I try to forget that I am the only one there who is not part of the same linguistic or national group.