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How to Have a Good Accent in a Foreign Language


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Old 23-06-2003, 17:22   #1
russkayatatu russkayatatu is offline
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How to Have a Good Accent in a Foreign Language

Hello

OK, this thread is about pronunciation in foreign languages - how to pronounce things like a native even when the language you're learning has sounds that are VERY different from your own (Russian for a lot of non-Slavic speakers, for example).

Please note: this is just what I think, some methods, ways of thinking, etc. that have worked for me - some I employed unconsciously, some consciously - they have no authority whatsoever. I'm not a linguist, I'm not a language teacher, I'm just somebody who has studied several Indo-European languages in American schools and thought a little bit about language: how to learn it, how people use it, how it's connected to thought and how it differs from region to region. If you don't agree with anything I say, that's fine - I have problems with a lot of the formal linguistics I've been taught and have read - and I've never sat in on a "pronunciation" class, so I'm ignorant of how other people approach this topic, I admit; maybe this is even old hat. It's just that even for languages I hardly speak I have a good accent, which surprises the hell out of people, and lately I've been thinking about how and why, analyzing how I approach learning foreign languages and trying to formulate a system that's a little more universal. Anyway, this is something like what I've come up with.

So, here goes: when you're learning a language, one of the most important things you can do is LISTEN. And never stop listening. This is crucial. A lot of people, when they first learn a new word, listen to the native pronunciation once or twice, repeat, and then stop paying attention to how it's pronounced. When they come across the word again, they think, "oh yeah, I know this word," and don't reevaluate the pronuncation. I'd advise someone to listen, listen, repeat (imitating as closely as possible), then listen, listen, repeat.

Getting the right pronunciation should be a continuous process (at least for languages that have very different sounds, like Russian for English speakers). Begin with getting as close an approximation as you can get, then keep refining it. Even when you get really good, always keep one ear cocked to pick up intonation patterns, drawn-out vowels, any other pronunciation quirks that you didn't notice before; build a good base and it'll be easy to add on. And don't just listen to words...listen to phrases, how they go up and down, pitches, intonations, and try to copy. Don't make pronunciation the thing you pay the most attention to - a good accent won't help much if you have poor structure and limited vocabulary - but don't ever forget about it either; it's important.

Also, in the beginning especially, don't be so quick to say words or sentences that you pronounce things sloppily. Go slowly. You're building habits; if you begin with a good pronunciation, it will be easier to refine it later on. Don't rely too much on how a word is spelled, especially for vowels; spelling is only an approximation anyway, even in languages where spelling is not as weird as in English Words aren't something in a dictionary or on a page, they're something people say, so always pay attention to how people talk - and they will talk differently. It is amazing what you start to hear when you start to pay attention.

Another good strategy is to listen to songs in the foreign language, because then hopefully you're not listening just for comprehension but can pay attention to the way words sound - I do this all the time with languages I'm learning.

Just so you know, when I was first learning Russian my accent was FAR from perfect: I got all I could in the beginning, by for the life of me I could not pronounce soft consonants, especially a soft "L" (heard in words like "mal'chik"). I remember the first time I realized how off my pronunciation of "ocen'" ("very") was: I was watching a movie, and a man came up to the heroine on a subway, asked her if her book was interesting, and she replied "ocen'"...for some reason that time I heard it I realized how much softer the "ch" should be in that word, and then it was easier for me to hear it in other words as well. Soft "L" I finally got too, although there were several times when I would listen as hard as I could, repeat, and it would not be right; I couldn't hear it, and finally I'd stop before I got too frustrated. For me the moment of insight was when I realized I had to pay attention to the vowel, because the vowels around a soft consonant are different than around a hard one. I used to pronounce words like "govoril" (he talked) as "govoryl," with a hard "L," but when I thought of the "i," very forward, I would make a soft "L" without thinking about it. Conversely if I had the vowel wrong there was no way in hell I'd get the consonant; once you had the vowel the consonant followed naturally.

Other pronunciation things I picked up only later: vowel reductions, you gotta hear them to be able to say them, because the general rules are just general rules: a reduced "o" isn't EXACTLY the same as an "a," although "a" will take you pretty far. And there were a lot of other little things I didn't even realize I was paying attention to or copying: like "net" ("no") in Russian isn't always pronounced completely; sometimes it's shortened to "ne" - I never read that, but that's how people talk sometimes.

Of course if you want to learn English as a foreign language you might not want to lose your accent, since most Americans think foreign accents are sexy And if you've already started to learn a language and want to improve your accent I don't know if this will apply because I've never had that problem. Actually I don't know if it will help anybody but me. No, I am not really a linguistic nerd, but after so many people asked if I was Russian on hearing me speak I started to wonder what exactly I did to get an accent that's supposed to be so hard for Americans - and came up with something like this. Thank you to everyone who read this...pretty lame I know
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Old 27-06-2003, 18:04   #2
denial denial is offline
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Spasiba!!!

russkayatatu,

Oh thank you so much for sharing!! Finally someone came out with different solution .. I will follow your advise .. it is hard to pronoune russian for me since my first language is Malay ..

I love you!!! *kiss**kiss**kisss* ....mwah mwah mwah mwah...
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Old 27-06-2003, 19:23   #3
Bitty2002 Bitty2002 is offline
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hey do you have a good idea where I can hear soft consonants?? Cause I am teaching myself Russian, ha, people laugh in my face...anyway, I can read and read and I still have no idea what soft consonants might sound like exactly. Do you know of a good source: song, movie...language program anything that says them correctly? gives good examples? Thanks so much!
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Old 27-06-2003, 20:49   #4
daydreamer0102 daydreamer0102 is offline
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wow thats a pretty good approach there. im not having problems with pronounciation with Russian words yet, but i will when i get to the BIG words(eek!). its hard but i'll take that advice.
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Old 27-06-2003, 21:10   #5
Charles Charles is offline
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I've found listening to russian lyrics to be very useful. However, I will add this one observation. I've noticed that English, Irish, and Scottish singer tend to have much less of a distinct accent when they sing than when they talk. I don't know how well this compares to sung versus spoken Russian.

As for sexy foreign accents, yes, a bit is good. Make sure you learn correct grammer and vocabulary, or you can sound a bit stupid.

Anyone know of a good audio dictionary?

Great advice russkayatatu, thanks.
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Old 28-06-2003, 18:29   #6
denial denial is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bitty2002
hey do you have a good idea where I can hear soft consonants??

I have same problem Bitty ... and another thing .. sometimes they pronounce O as oh .. but sometime .. O as ahh ... umm.. is there a hard consonants ?
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Old 01-07-2003, 04:14   #7
Mute_Clouds Mute_Clouds is offline
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I like russian L's they are very neat! Like japanese r's! they say it kind of hard I think...its so hard to explain a sound!
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Old 03-07-2003, 16:30   #8
russkayatatu russkayatatu is offline
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denial, yes, there are hard consonants in Russian, although usually theyґre not a problem. Russian "o" sounds like "a" when it`s unstressed...like in English the word "computer," the accent/stress is on the PU - comPUter - and if it were a Russian word you`d "reduce" the "o" to "a" and pronounce it like cahmPUter instead of cohmPUter.

All unstressed vowels reduce in Russian, but "o" is the one that`s most important, because it`s very obvious and very bad if you don`t - people won`t be able to understand what you`re saying.

I donґt know of a good audio dictionary, sorry. If I hear about one I`ll let you know.

Thanks for your comments
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Old 14-07-2003, 15:13   #9
girl_into_music girl_into_music is offline
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Re: How to Have a Good Accent in a Foreign Language

russkayatatu, thank you very much for the advice.
Especially for this one:

Quote:
Originally posted by russkayatatu

Even when you get really good, always keep one ear cocked to pick up intonation patterns, drawn-out vowels, any other pronunciation quirks that you didn't notice before; build a good base and it'll be easy to add on. And don't just listen to words...listen to phrases, how they go up and down, pitches, intonations, and try to copy.
For me, academic "pronunciation" lessons never worked. It was frustrating, one hour lesson and hardly any result. People who speak on cassetts are usually actors and it sounds a bit unreal...
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Old 14-07-2003, 19:23   #10
Charles Charles is offline
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There is certainly wide varitation in the style of the recordings I've heard. For example, on one recording Kiev is said as two syllables, while on another it is one syllable. Some of this I suspect is an attempt to over pronounce something to help show all the sounds that are there. I wonder how much might be attributed to individual or regional variation of speech.

One recording I found very useful was of all the combinations of single letters followed by single vowels. That helped me differentiate the palatized vs. non-palatized sounds.

One thing I have noticed is that I can understand more when a woman is speaking than when a man is. Russian spoken by men sounds much less distinct, but this may just be lack of practice on my part.
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Old 27-01-2007, 01:13   #11
Talyubittu Talyubittu is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by denial View Post
I have same problem Bitty ... and another thing .. sometimes they pronounce O as oh .. but sometime .. O as ahh ... umm.. is there a hard consonants ?
A soft connsonant would mean the word is stressed earlier in it's spelling.

Take "Bol" in Russian for example. You wouldn't say "BOWL" because it's harsher stressing at the end. You'd simply say "Boal" your pitch should seem to go down a bit when speaking soft consonants and your mouth's accenting should be slight and non violent.
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