What does this accent sound like?
What does this accent sound like?
I've never even been to Southeast Asia, but it doesn't really matter... My first language is Russian.
Actually, I'm a frustrated "one-and-a-half-lingual" who just can't get rid of the accent. I started learning English when I was 4, but I had virtually no exposure to native speech until I came to Montreal, Canada some 11 years later. In Russia, all English teachers pride themselves in mutilating the language left, right and center, and seem to be convinced that Runglish is "correct English", and most native speakers don't even know their own language...
The main problem is that my "language acquisition device" shut down smack in the middle of my learning process. Like most bilinguals, I never went through a stage when I had to memorize word lists and translate everything in my head, and I somehow managed to internalize basic grammar. For instance, unlike most of my relatives, I never skip articles; nor do I turn "He didn't go there" into "He didn't went there". But unlike real bilinguals, I'm a far cry from having mastered let alone internalized the English sound system, and the @*$# accent keeps getting in my way.
Many people, especially other nonnative speakers, have a lot of trouble understanding what I'm saying... When I tried asking my Canadian friends what I was saying wrong, many of them told me I had no foreign accent whatsoever... According to them, people have trouble understanding me because I get too nervous and what not...
The truth is that North American cultural norms discourage people from giving you negative feedback even if you ask for it, especially in situations where you might be at a disadvantage. Being rather naive, I actually bought into that, but other non-natives (e.g. Francophones) have no qualms about calling things by their names. Because of this confusion, I went through a bigtime identity crisis. I had a tendency to identify with Canadians, and most people would simply play along for the sake of political correctness. However, every once in a while, people would actually start treating me like a foreigner, and I didn't even know what was going on.
Now that I know that I don't have a snowball's chance in hell of actually losing the accent, all I want to do is get to Level 2 on the Antimoon scale. With my level of aptitude, it's very unlikely that I'll ever get to level 3, but as far as I know, level 2 is the bare minimum.
From my experience, fossilized errors usually result from an inability to distinguish between certain sounds, especially if you're used to hearing them being used interchangably. For instance, it took me more than a year to stop turning "a bit" into "a beat" and vice versa just because that distinction doesn't exist in Runglish. It took me even longer (> 3 years) to stop rhyming good with food, and it took me almost 5 years to figure out that "anything" is not pronounced like "Annie thing" despite the fact that it's spelled with an A.
What I would like to know is how you can correct a seemingly incorrigible accent. I'm trying to find a way to spot those "fossilized errors" and try to get rid of them. I already have a basic understanding of phonetics, and just looking up the pronunciations of different words won't cut it. More often than not, I don't even notice my errors until someone asks me to repeat myself.
At least Russian is a European language.
I speak Cantonese, which has a sound system totally different from that of English. My b, g, d (voiceless) are different from English b, g, d (voiced). And the positions of voice production in the two languages are so different. In Cantonese, the position is close to the front of the mouth, making our vocal cords seldom vibrate.
I know nothing about Russian. But I strongly suspect that accent has something to do with the position of voice production, besides correct pronunciation. In English, because there are a lot of voiced consonants and all vowels are voiced, the vocal cord vibrates much more frequently than other languages, giving English a sound quality very different from others. The position of voice production in English is deep behind compared to my mother tongue. If the position is wrong, then even if one can correctly pronounce all the words, he will still sound foreign. One good example is the voices of Sesame Street. The pronunciation is correct. But the accent is funny because everyone is whispering in high notes.
Since you are a Russian, I strongly believe that your accent is removable. It's because the KGB agents in the US were not born native English speakers. They were trained to be accentless in order not to be discovered and executed.
Native speakers are good models for imitation, but almost all of them do not know how to learn an accent without proper training. Well, as far as I am concerned, not every Britons or Americans can shift to other native accents.
Russian does in fact have voiced consonants, but as far as I know, the voice onset times are slightly different from English. Most of them are actually pronounced with a *positive* VOT, so for instance, the Russian "b" would sound kind of like the p in "sport".
The Speech Accent Archive (http://accent.gmu.edu/) has samples of both typical Russian accents and Canadian ones. To get started, I would like to figure out what exactly I'm pronouncing in Russian. I can record the "Please call Stella..." passage if necessary.
FYI, I don't live in a Russian ghetto, and I get plenty of exposure to native speech... That is to say, I'm already "imitating native speakers" to the best of my ability, yet some people find my accent difficult to understand.
Here's the clickable link: