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View Full Version : Can people of the same thick foreign accent understand each other?



hammerklavier
06-28-2008, 06:14 PM
I don't need this for a novel. I've just wondered if there were two people, say with a thick french accent, but who otherwise spoke English well, if their accent gets in the way or do they understand each other perfectly?

escritora
06-28-2008, 06:25 PM
Accents get in the way. I can't always understand another Spanish speaking person and they can't always understand me.

True story: when I visited Costa Rica, none of the natives understood my Spanish. In fact they didn't realize I was speaking Spanish. I'd understand them perferctly tho. However, they did understand my white friend's broken Spanish.

ETA: I don't think I answered your question. I don't speak with an accent. Well, when I'm speaking Spanish I have a Spanish accent, but when I speak English I don't have an accent. Now I'm wondering why I responded to this post. ::scratches head::

Mike Martyn
06-28-2008, 07:46 PM
Back in my hitchiking days, I travelled around Europe with this guy I'd met along the way from Portugal. He didn't speak English and i didn't speak Portugese.

However we both had the equivalent of high school French and pretty much the same 3000 word vocabulary. We got along fine in our awful French most likely since neither of us were using any slang, local venaculur and we'd been taught a Parisian accent. (Although since I was from Quebec I could throw in a bit of the Quebequois accent known as Jouel just to piss off the Parisians!)

However we both had an awful time understanding the French spoken by the locals.

I mean who can really understand the French. The eat snails and frogs! They love Gerry Louis movies!

Sargentodiaz
06-28-2008, 07:47 PM
A lot of it has to do with the sounds of the letters. To Germans with heavy accents speaking to each other in English would understand one another because the word sounds are similar.
Make sense?

WendyNYC
06-28-2008, 07:50 PM
I would think so. I can generally understand someone with a thick accent if I have time to get used to it--one of my closest friends speaks with a thick Turkish accent and I know which letter sounds she confuses (v for w, etc.) I don't have a problem understanding her like I did when we first met.

donroc
06-28-2008, 07:55 PM
Many among us in the USA do not open our mouths wide enough when we speak foreign languages, which makes our pronunciation inadequate. I have trouble understanding people with accents when they speak too fast and do not enunciate.

zenwriter
06-28-2008, 08:11 PM
When two people who speak the same language meet, they more often speak that language rather than try to speak in English. I spend time with non-English speakers and I have noticed that when two people with a thick accent meet (say, in ESL class), one of the first questions is where each person is from. If they are both from France, Poland, etc, they switch seamlessly to the language they both know. If there is no common language, conversations take place in English and understanding varies. My mom speaks with a heavy accent and she often feels more comfortable with someone who also has a heavy accent because that person will speak slowly and will not get impatient, the way some English-speakers do. However, my mom does struggle to understand someone with a heavy accent she does not recognize. She really struggles with a Scottish accent, for example. I hope that helps.

IceCreamEmpress
06-28-2008, 08:20 PM
The accent wouldn't get in the way between two native speakers of the same language, because the reason for foreign accents is that one is more used to using a certain set of phonemes that exist in one's native language, rather than in the foreign language.

So, for instance, in the case of two French people speaking accented English with each other (as they might do at, say, a corporate meeting of the US company for which they both work), the fact that Jacques had trouble with the English "th" sound and said "zis" instead of "this" wouldn't be likely to throw Mireille off, because the English "th" sound is equally foreign to her (regardless of whether she says "zis" or "dis" or is better at languages and actually manages "this").

And yet...there's tremendous confusion about whether the villain of the anime series Hellsing is named "Alucard" or "Arucard", as those names are indistinguishable, sound-wise, in Japanese. "Alucard" makes sense, because it's an anagram of "Dracula"--however, transliterating the Japanese for the character's name would traditionally be done as "Arucard", because the sound that an "l" is transliterated into Japanese with is usually transliterated back into English as an "r". (For instance, the Japanese word for "television" is transliterated into English as "terebi".)

JoNightshade
06-28-2008, 08:20 PM
In my experience the answer to your question is absolutely YES. I taught EFL in China for a year and all of my students were required to speak English-only while in my room. Most of them had very heavy accents, and while I often had to ask them to repeat and enunciate, they could understand one another perfectly because they had all developed the same kind of "Chinglish." It's basically like using English but with the pronunciation and sometimes grammar they are used to. Actually I had some students from different regions of China, so they could not understand each other in Chinese (as regional dialects are often like completely different languages, at least spoken) but could only communicate in English.

KCathy
06-28-2008, 08:55 PM
I agree. My Spanish teacher in Ecuador made us all speak Spanish to each other, and we understood because we were mispronouncing things the same way. In fact, we understood each other's Spanish far better than that of the Ecuadorians at first. I agree with ICP: it's all about the phonemes.

After a while we also had a whole bizarre set of words that migrated back and forth between English and Spanish because, for example, the nuances of the Spanish word "subir" were closer to our intended meaning than the English "to climb" when discussing, in English, the smell of brownies rising to the second floor from the kitchen below. My Mexican friends in Louisiana did the same thing, liberally sprinkling English words throughout their Spanish because their fellow expatriates understood them, too.

Disa
06-29-2008, 06:48 AM
Hell, I live in the south in the US- I can't even understand half the southerners that live here and we are all speaking English. I live in a culturally diverse city and I can understand the people who do not have English as their primary language better than I can understand some of the Americans who do. This probably has nothing to do with your question, just thought I'd add it.

rugcat
06-29-2008, 07:08 AM
Back in my hitchiking days, I travelled around Europe with this guy I'd met along the way from Portugal. He didn't speak English and i didn't speak Portugese.

However we both had the equivalent of high school French and pretty much the same 3000 word vocabulary. We got along fine in our awful French most likely since neither of us were using any slang, local venaculur and we'd been taught a Parisian accent. (Although since I was from Quebec I could throw in a bit of the Quebequois accent known as Jouel just to piss off the Parisians!)

However we both had an awful time understanding the French spoken by the locals.

I mean who can really understand the French. The eat snails and frogs! They love Gerry Louis movies!I had the same experience. My french is so-so, and I had much less of a problem understanding the french spoken by Greeks or Germans than I did the french spoken by native speakers.

Parisians especially. They're like new yorkers, running everything together. Imagine studying standard english, only to be met with "Yo! Jeet yet?"

veinglory
06-29-2008, 07:14 AM
If their english is fluent, shared accent is no accent. Accent is purely relative, we all have one.

Mike Martyn
06-29-2008, 08:24 AM
If their english is fluent, shared accent is no accent. Accent is purely relative, we all have one.

I don't have an accent, eh?

yttar
06-29-2008, 03:11 PM
I'm not really adding much; I'm mostly just agreeing with what others have said. I teach ESL in Japan and all the Japanese students can understand each other in English as long as they understand those English words (depending on each student's level of English). But often times, they have difficulty speaking with native speakers because 1. Japanese is syllabic so they tend to say fi-to (two syllables) rather than fight. Also, they'll say cah-to instead of cat. And 2. Japanese doesn't have the r/l distinction like English so when they say "Engrish" they think they're saying "English" and when they're saying "lice" they think they're saying "rice". (I had to train myself to stop cringing every time I heard them say, "I like lice," because I eventually realized they meant "rice".) 3. There are more differences, but I can't think of them at the moment.

The same thing goes for when I try speaking Japanese with my husband. Because we're both native English speakers, we understand each other in Japanese, while the Japanese may not understand our Japanese. So usually our conversations at stores are a mix of English, Japanese, and katakana English (or their pronunciation of English words that may or may not mean the same thing in English as they do in Japanese).

Yttar

hammerklavier
06-29-2008, 05:26 PM
Thanks everyone, I guess that settles it.