Accent and Voice Quality

Guy   Sat Jul 14, 2007 6:34 am GMT

I've got a question to all of those who have a native accent in more than 1 language. My wife is bilingual (she was raised in the US but her first language is Japanese), and it seems to me that her voice quality kind of changes when she's speaking Japanese and English.

Even when she's not saying a proper word in either language, like when she's saying 'Ahhhh,' or 'oohhhh,' I can still tell whether she was in the 'English mode' or 'Japanse mode.'

Does this happen to you if you're bilingual, or do you know anyone like her around you? I can see people with certain language background has a tendency to produce sounds from a different place...

Any thoughts? Thanks.
Guest 224   Sat Jul 14, 2007 8:02 am GMT
I actually let out a little chuckle as I read your post because I could really relate to your wife! I was raised in the US but my first language is Vietnamese, and I've spoken to other Vietnamese-Americans about the phenomenon you're speaking of. My friend commented about how it's uncontrollably weird that his voice becomes a little bit more high-pitched when he speaks Vietnamese (maybe your wife can't relate to this particular thing because Japanese isn't a tonal language like Vietnamese is).

When I speak English, the "quality" of my voice changes and when I speak Vietnamese, the "quality" of my voice changes not only because the language requires different intonation, but because of something else that I can't put my finger on. It's just *different*

When I'm in Vietnamese mode, my "ooooh" and "ahhhh" would be noticeably different too...I just always thought it was me that noticed the difference. And definitely, my Vietnamese-American family and friends would make *asian* sounds every once in a while that you would never hear in English =D
Guest   Sat Jul 14, 2007 10:29 am GMT
Well, my wife is trilingual and her "ahhhh" and "ooohhh" is like a symphony. I'm going to persuade her to learn another two or three languages, oh boy.
K. T.   Sun Jul 15, 2007 12:13 am GMT
I've noticed this change with languages as well. French people tell me that I speak like a French person (but not someone from Paris)... I've been told that my German and Japanese (on the phone for the latter) also sound "native". I know that I speak Japanese and French higher than I speak English. I also speak Spanish, but I'm told that I sound French or Italian in Spanish (Dang!), so I can't comment on that.
K. T.   Sun Jul 15, 2007 12:15 am GMT
I guess I speak German in the same range or slightly higher than English.
Guest   Sun Jul 15, 2007 12:38 am GMT
How did you end up speaking so many languages, K.T?
K. T.   Sun Jul 15, 2007 1:01 am GMT
Perhaps I should ask you, Guest, about your language experiences first.
Guest   Sun Jul 15, 2007 2:12 am GMT
I have studied Spanish and French in school, and Japanese on my own and in some classes that didn't teach me anything. I studied Spanish for 3 years and got pretty good at understanding the written form and okay at writing, but I'm not so good at listening and I can't really speak it at all. I studied French for just one year, so I have pretty much the same problems with it that I have with Spanish, just worse. As for Japanese, it's much harder to read/write, but I'd say that in it I'm between the level I am in Spanish and the level I am in French. I think my listening comprehension in Japanese is actually better than what I can do in Spanish and French, since I can actually understand Japanese TV at least somewhat, but I'm not very good at speaking.
K. T.   Sun Jul 15, 2007 3:29 am GMT
Just keep listening. It's like the language you want is on a short-wave
radio, you have to find it and tune it in. First, you hear static, then words, then bigger groups of words and FINALLY you tune in to the language and it is yours.

I did have a tiny bit of exposure to Italian and German when I was a kid, but I did like you did. I started with French and Spanish in school.