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|What is accent? Who has an accent? What do we do to neutralize our
accent? These questions and more will be answered by this post. |
Everyone has an accent. So, when I hear some people say, "She’s good in English. She doesn’t have an accent,” I find it a bit amusing. Accent usually reflects the place where a person comes from, that’s why it’s easy to say if someone is Korean, American, Filipino, British, Australian, etc., even if they all speak in English. Accent is also one of the main reasons why people have a hard time understanding each other, and thus many people strive to change their accent. I said "change their accent” not "get rid of their accent”, because I think it’s more appropriate to say the former. People can actually change their accent by studying another accent and imitating it. When people say "neutralize” or "remove one’s accent”, what they often mean is to get the standard American English accent. So, how can we have this kind of accent?
First, we ought to study our native tongue’s vowel and consonant sounds and compare it to the Standard American English vowels and sounds. By doing this, we will know why we’re having difficulty imitating their accent and how we can succeed on doing it.
Ex. Tagalog (Philippine language)for instance have only 5 vowel sounds.
A E I O U
(as in father) (as in bet) (as in indeed) (as in all) (as in ooze)
English, on the other hand, although has the same vowels, each vowel has many different sounds.
A (as in father) A (as in mate) A (as in map)
I (as in ice) I (as in intention)
U (as in umbrella) U (as in university)
Hence, when some Filipinos speak in English, they tend to sound the English vowels a, e, i, o, u the same way they sound in their native tongue. This is what happens most of the time to other people of other languages. They carry over the sounds of their vowels when they speak in English.
Another problem is the aspirating sound of the English consonants, which is not done in one’s native tongue.
Ex. The Tagalog consonant sounds for instance need no air to be pushed out from the mouth when they are pronounced unlike English consonants.
Tunay (true) vs true
Pahina (page) vs page
For other languages, the problem is the lack of some consonant sounds in their native tongue, such as j, z, l, r, f, p.
Ex. In Japanese language, the L sound is nonexistent. Thus, when they say an English word with an L sound, they tend to sound it like an R which is the nearest sound to L in their native language.
In English, stress in words and sentences as well as intonation patterns is also a part of the so-called accent. So when we stress the words/sentences or use intonation patterns that are different from Standard American English (since we often carry over the stress and intonation patterns of our mother tongue to English), our accent would then sound different from Americans.
Ex. Remember that yes/no questions usually have a rising intonation and that wh questions usually have a falling intonation.
Are you okay?
What time is it?
Also, remember that the keywords in a sentence are the ones enunciated well while the articles are glided over, so as not to sound robotic and monotonous.
Accent is the rhythm or music of our speech. Acquiring another accent is like learning songs. When we try to learn a new song, we study both its lyrics and its melody. If we just study the lyrics (in this case, the grammar of the language we’re studying) and we just ignore the melody by using the melody of the song we are most familiar with (using the accent and pronunciation of our mother tongue), we sound different from what is expected. Each language and dialect has its own rhythm which explains why we have different accents even if we all speak in English. The key to acquiring another accent is to understand and study that language (like English) as a totally different language (new song which melody and lyrics we both have to know), thus, following the pronunciation of its sounds, the intonation and stress patterns, etc., instead of linking it to our mother tongue. Do not carry over the rules of our language to the one we try to acquire.
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