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As you may all well know by now, the whole concept of a ‘native speaker’ is somewhat strange. I mean honestly there are some native speakers (of which I am one), who I just cannot understand a word that comes out of their mouth. Why? Not just the words used from their particular area of the world, but simply their accent!
What actually is an accent?
But an accent really is just the different ways we ‘form’ the words in our mouth. If you listen to different accents, even though they are all saying the same words they are forming them in different ways. This way of forming words was learned by listening to others who do the same.
Where do accents come from?
What I do find really interesting though is that these accents don’t usually come from our home or our family. Often you will see an immigrant who speaks with a strong accent or broken English accent, but after having children in their new country, do their children speak with this same accent? Answer – No!
Accents are formed from the whole environment. This includes all things related to sound and speaking that is absorbed into our brains right from an early age. So these things will include not just our parents talking to us, but our teachers, the television, the music we listen to, our neighbours, our friends, our classmates, our workmates, the bus driver….you name it, they all help us form our accents.
Once we absorb all these different sounds, we form our own accent from this. These accents are usually formed based on what we unconsciously think everyone around us will understand. That is why the accents of say Northern England often sound similar because they talk to each other more than they talk to people from other parts of the world.
Can we change our accent?
Yes. We can change or lose our accent too! I myself was born in New Zealand and so of course had a kiwi accent for a long time, then I moved away and pretty much for the last 20 years I have been mixing with non-New Zealanders and as a result I have lost a lot (though not all) of my accent. Many people now say I have an ‘international’ accent. Whether that is true or not I’m not sure.
Can you choose your accent?
Some people can, particularly if you live in a non-English country. I have some relatives who live in Norway. They speak fluent Norwegian of course, but also fluent English. I was surprised when I first met them that their accent was very American. I asked them how did they do that because they have no American friends, and they said that they watched a lot of American movies and listened to a lot of American songs…because they liked the American accent. Interesting.
What do you think?
- Why do some people have an accent?
- How to speak with a British Accent
- Secrets of speaking with a genuine accent
- Dialect vs Accent