can you recognise an English accent in a foreign language?

Guest   Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:19 am GMT
<<What is this? The joke of the week? You have to be kidding! Where do you live that you have never met an anglophone who speaks a foreign langauge well? >>

The United States of America.
Guest   Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:22 am GMT
<<Think about it, every high school has at least 10, so in a big city there are at least 100 high schools, so there are a thousand such speakers. >>

Alot of the foreign language teachers are foreigners themselves, who speak english as a second language.
Damian   Thu Jun 26, 2008 6:55 am GMT
You can pretty much tell right away that a British person is British when s/he speaks French, in particular. Likewise when a French person speaks English - the linguistic national characteristics shine through like a beacon on full power.

I would much rather hear a French person speak English than the other way round, as the former has a sort of romantic charm about it, even when grammatical mistakes are made, while the latter can sound a wee bit gauche and awkward unless of course the British speaker has mastered the Language really well and gets the pronunciation and enunciation really spot on the mark......many of them don't!

Britain once had a Prime Minster who came from a coastal town in East Kent, literally within sight of the French coast. His native English tones were rich and plummy and very "posh" English English RP, but his French pronunciation was truly dire! I don't know what his grammatical constructions were like but his brand of spoken French sounded almost comical due to his plummy English English accent coming out loud and clear.

The Queen is supposed to speak French fluently, but when she speaks it it's so obvious that she is English and from a certain social class.
Xie   Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:05 pm GMT
>>The face of the US has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The image of the US as a primarily Anglo gene pool is an outdated one. For those who believe immigrants are confined to Los Angeles and New York, think again.... As an example, Columbus, Ohio's near west side is now predominantly Latino, first generation immigrants and obviously this is a bilingual community.

But that still can't convince me, either, because I'm shallow and I want to see the exact image - i.e. I must be in your country to see the truth. I still auto-assume nine out of ten Americans are either white or black, and ABCs (a group of Chinese Americans) can't speak my language well. The point of receiving higher education is to know what most others might not, but also that I can't assume, therefore, that most would want to be understanding. And in fact, based on the general estimate that seven out of ten Americans are white, I auto-assume, too, that a random American would very probably be white. A black person would typically be from the US as well, but they are a minority, like how I assume the non-Chinese are the minority in Singapore.

No matter how many immigrants you are living with, you can't convince enough Chinese like me, for example, that people like me would be learning English from immigrants instead of white Americans. Never enough. So, for the same token, I know I have to endure how much chingchong slurs I could hear in your country, because so few Americans know Chinese (or, in my country, people who know English) AND are understanding.

>>In Europe there's more opportunity to practice the language you learned in the classroom by virtue of geography alone.

Agree. I wouldn't even bother to learn any Hakka or other Cantonese dialects or some Hunan dialects (previously, from a domestic helper of my uncle there), and I must say life could be easily threatened anywhere outside my city in the "same" province. Unlike the worried Chinese, Europeans can travel to many neighboring countries without a lot of fear since 1945, and, now, almost every country. But above all, like you guys, your average European/North American citizen has enough wealth that language-teaching businesses can begin and you can buy language books as easily as buying packets of cigarettes. This is a privilege that the average poor Southeast Asian/African/Latino can't afford in his/her country.

But hey, even if they had the money, their countries can only produce nothing more than typically third-world products like raw materials... rather than specialist SERVICES, such as language teaching, which is ALL too expensive. Back in the 1930/40s, the French were still offering French and the local languages to ethnic Chinese in Indochina, but if that weren't their colonies, they wouldn't bother at all to pay so much for "guttersnipes" like my grandpa, who hated all these foreign tongues so much.

People often have the courage to speak, but never bother to say. I can tell without doubt, and even without any specific linguistic knowledge at all, why I wouldn't bother to learn Indonesian and Tagalog, for example, and why their mother countries can't produce language books at all. I know all the misery their peoples could suffer every so often. Ask yourself, and you could daresay you wouldn't learn some particular languages that are too POOR to learn. And that's why I can see most language enthusiasts are European/of European descent, and outside their world, it might be good news that the "second world" of language learning would be China, followed by the less populous Japan/Korea.... and very few are "other Asians" or, simple, "other peoples". I know very well that my country is inexplicably the largest and richest "developing" country.
Bill in Los Angeles   Thu Jun 26, 2008 4:15 pm GMT
Well, Xie, you make a lot of auto-assumptions (I like your expression, "auto-assumptions"). That can lead you down the road of subsequent ideas and even decisions that are based on auto-assumptions. Be wary of that. Also, you should know that there's an incredible number of first generation Chinese immigrants here who hardly speak any English at all. Most of the San Gabriel Valley, outside Los Angeles is first generation Chinese, and that's just one area of one metropolitan city. I think the days of "chingchong" jokes are in the past. I've lived in different parts of the US and have literally never heard any chingchong jokes. Th only negative reference I've heard in relation to Chinese immigrants is the stereotype that they are not very friendly whn you visit their shops. This is because in the US we have an obsession with politeness when it comes to shop owners. Storekeepers aer expected to smile and be overly polite to everyone, regardless of whether they make a purchase or not. You hear the same complaints from American shoppers when they visit shops owned by other immigrant groups, so the stereotype is not exclusive to the Chinese. If there are other stereotypes that are more exclusive to Asian immigrants in general they're usually positive stereotypes related to the general American perception of Asians being good students... and though it's a racial stereotype it does bring respect rather than scorn and certainly there are no chingchong jokes attached to it.

In my younger days I was an ESL teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Guest   Thu Jun 26, 2008 7:36 pm GMT
" This is because in the US we have an obsession with politeness when it comes to shop owners. Storekeepers aer expected to smile and be overly polite to everyone, regardless of whether they make a purchase or not."

It is the responsibility of every immigrant to adapt to the customs of the host country.
Wintereis   Thu Jun 26, 2008 8:30 pm GMT
Yes, I have never been willing to call myself fluent in Spanish. I do understand a good deal of it however. On the other hand, I have come across many foreigners--a guy from Japan comes to mind-- who have had degrees in English, and I could barely understand a word they were speaking. In the case of the Japanese student, I did understand that he was flirting with me. There are some languages that we are all fluent in. ; )
Xie   Fri Jun 27, 2008 4:27 pm GMT
I think business practices are generally true for many countries. Yeah, there are a lot of very general things going on. I'm not going to generalize, but you can get my point: it's all what the human nature offers. Failing to be understanding is a chronic, natural problem you must work on.

The more I stay with very different people, the more I know what is going on with them, and how I can act with them peacefully; but when I turn back to people of my background (Chinese, young guys, highly educated, elite students...), I'd be back to my "normal" social environment, where traveling in a foreign country or getting to know a "foreign" person is entirely romance, as opposed to my social reality in Hong Kong.

The exact source of motivation, namely that I'm so different from almost all of you here, is exactly the main cultural obstacle. It's my nature to auto-assume, and so are (yes) many people around me. I can't treat learners just like my compatriots and, more precisely, those in the same place, not from other provinces. I can see that I'll be _cutting_ those obscure links to you foreign guys to stay socially active in my own circle. As a student, I'm taught to identify what it means to live differently and deal with cultural differences. But well, who cares if I can't understand some words of your language, which is as complicated as mine, every so often.

Despite my own inherently unpleasant accent, and my permanently limited linguistic knowledge, I know the exact value of remaining a foreigner to foreign cultures. For one thing, it's a universal cultural taboo to fake identity/to try to live just like foreigners; for another, over-learning languages (and accents, in particular) is just like sitting in ivory towers. I can at least remember what Americans say, i.e. the phrase "get a life".

Indeed, by that definition, I think I'm already done with English, when I have reached an insanely high level as a person who can't leave his country at the moment. And indeed, going even further might actually be a dangerous step towards faking identity, which I actually did twice last year. So, I don't think you have to worry if your accent doesn't sound good. Esp. since my own language is said to be exotic (just like short stature is a very special trait among some famous peoples in general), I feel I'm already fed up with all the home remedies to ineffective language learning and such and such. WHY bother that much, even as a language enthusiast, or as one you suppose yourself to be?

I think my English could actually beat quite a few graduates of similar background, possibly except some really elite ones/English major graduates, etc. But so what, it has to work with other personal skills and luck and guanxi (this is beyond relationships, or just call it business acumen) and so on... and in real terms, even a heavy English accent would be welcome when everyone is learning ESL anyway, which has been a huge rip-off for most of us...
Xie   Fri Jun 27, 2008 4:31 pm GMT
Pardon me for any Chinglish-isms. I should have used "connections" instead. But this word isn't as good as guanxi, because guanxi is connections PLUS relationships (family), relationships (sexual), and acumen as well. Every normal Chinese is a master of not just tones, but also guanxi.
Bill in Los Angeles   Fri Jun 27, 2008 4:54 pm GMT
<<Despite my own inherently unpleasant accent, and my permanently limited linguistic knowledge,...>>

Are these self depracating comments used as a form of mandatory humility or do you really believe that? Permanantly limited? You've come this far, why would you assume your knowledge is permanantly limited? That's not logical.

<<over-learning languages (and accents, in particular) is just like sitting in ivory towers.>>

Over-learning? I can't believe you think learning correct pronunciation is a bad thing. Most people on this site would applaud your improvements in this area. learnign correct pronunciation facilitates better communication. It doesn't mean you've sold out your Chinese identity and it's not viewed as ostentatious.

<<I can at least remember what Americans say, i.e. the phrase "get a life".>>

Anyone who says "get a life" to you when you're trying to improve your language skills is an asshole and they're wrong.

Bottom line, keep learning. If you hold learning to be a negative and perceive yourself as permanantly limited, you're probably on the wrong site.
Jasper   Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:25 pm GMT
Xie, I can see your point of view, but consider this: A lot of Chinese English speakers are unintelligible. I am sure you want to be intelligible, so accent reduction would not be an exercise in futility, or any attempt at adopting a fake identity. The endeavor would be a matter of hard-core pragmatism; I beg you to think about it.
Xie   Sat Jun 28, 2008 8:11 am GMT
I don't wish to discuss that in detail. Well, it isn't important if you don't get my point. There is a certain limit you can't go beyond, because 1) it may actually be too hard to go or 2) it may be too cost-benefit inefficient. That's just like how ordinary people would say about learning multiple languages (namely, the "that must take too much time" responses)

It's OK to shadow and get the most from it, but it's over-learning to dissect pronunciation. All I want to say is it is possible to have an accent that is too good to believe. Now, one chinglish-ism is: gun hits the first bird that flies out. For one thing, over-learning pronunciation would take quite a lot of time in the beginner stage which might be better spent on sth else (like grammar). For another, I think I should balance the time I spend on it and and other areas. I think it's good to "sell me out" immediately with a good accent and a few (pleasant) pauses, rather than to over-learn to acquire a perfect accent.

If you talk about proficiency, it can be anywhere between "proficient" or "very proficient", but nothing in the middle. My focus is, rather, on something, I don't know, that may be related to some pragmatics or cultural proficiency (again, this is part of _pragmatics_). Now that many ppl learn ESL, English has become easy enough to comprehend, tho I do personally, yeah, meet the kind of terrible accents you mentioned.

And the pure linguistic knowledge of pronunciation isn't that complicated at all. I'm not writing to discourage others (which would be disastrous for me as a frequent poster).

Indeed, tho I'd want to have at least some audios for Esperanto, since it's perfectly phonetic and everyone can speak it with a non-native accent (per se), Esperanto is one of the very few examples that lets me save almost all the time on sth else, like reading.

There is somehow a level that you might really be over-doing something, and if you can't get it and say I'm discouraging others, which isn't my usual practice of posting in all forums I read, and which would be too evil for a proficient writer from my country, that might actually be the problem of my English.
Xie   Sat Jun 28, 2008 8:16 am GMT
The mismatch between a perfect accent and very limited oral command is very similar to that between your idiolect and your social status. Sorry, I wouldn't be patient to study pragmatics, but I know instinctively that sociable people are normally proficient speakers of (all) languages they speak.

That mismatch isn't as grave as laughing during a funeral, but could be as embarrassing as stepping on someone's shoes. When a native speaker starts speaking his/her "natural" language at normal, full speed, you could get lost very easily. Surely you have to be patient in that case...
Benny   Sun Jun 29, 2008 2:56 pm GMT
<<I don't wish to discuss that in detail. Well, it isn't important if you don't get my point. There is a certain limit you can't go beyond, because 1) it may actually be too hard to go or...>>

But other than that.... well, I didn't really undeerstand the rest.
Guest   Sun Jun 29, 2008 9:55 pm GMT
Xie, you need to chill and stop thinking for a bit. Take a vacation or something...