About Accents

What causes a “foreign” accent? Why can young children who were born in the United States speak English without an accent, while their foreign-born parents who have advanced degrees and have lived in the USA for many years still speak very accented English?

There are three “causes” of accents:

ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE WAS TAUGHT AND LEARNED BACKWARDS.

  • Through natural immersion, children are exposed to spoken language from early infancy. Speech patterns are learned when very young children imitate the adults around them. Little children absorb both the meanings and the speech patterns of the language they hear.
  • You learned English as a Foreign Language (EFL) backwards when you were in elementary school in your native country. You were taught the alphabet and reading. Your teachers were not native speakers and you never internalized the correct sound patterns and speech movement patterns of the words you learned to read.

 

THE REPERTOIRE OF SPEECH SOUNDS IS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES.

  • You use the sounds specific to your native language when you speak the second language. If your native language doesn’t have the “er” or “th” sounds, your speech will “default” to the closest sound you are accustomed to producing.
  • You use the intonation and melodic patterns of your native language when you speak the second language.
  • You use the same degree of muscle tension and muscle movements of the first language even though speakers of the second language use their facial muscles differently.

 

ALL LANGUAGES ARE RULE BASED, THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT IN EVERY LANGUAGE AND ARE USED WITHOUT AWARENESS.

  • American English has 11 systematic rules for syllable stress. Typically, American speakers have no idea of what these rules are; they learned them unconsciously when they were very young children by imitating others.
  • You have taken the rules from your native language and transferred them to English. If your native language has the “rule” of never ending a word with the “z” sound, you will substitute the “s” sound for any final “z” sound in English, and you won’t even be aware of what you are doing.