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Accents in language learning and acquisition

Accents in language learning and acquisition

Madam A:  What is your accent?

Madam B: I am not sure what you are hearing. I am not sure about how to answer that question.

Above was the exchange between a friend living abroad and a local at a restaurant. The local was eavesdropping on her short telephone conversation.

This is one of the scenarios that I am all too well familiar with as an Anglophone living in a Francophone country. When it is not physical traits that come under scrutiny, it is my accent(s) – because they change – depending on the other person! A few days ago, I called a stranger and after the usual greetings, he asked where I was from as I did not speak with a local accent. I answered that I must be from somewhere else, other than his country, if he was listening more to my accent than my words. Caught off guard, he replied that his grandfather always told him that a stranger’s accent was her/his identity (and footprints) wherever s/he goes. I told him that was quite interesting, adding that an accent must have served and still serves to identify and label others! He was contrite but confirms, unwittingly, the need to accept ‘exotic’ accents to promote diversity and sustainability- a subject for another day!

Accents in language learning and acquisition So, what is an accent? According to the Linguistic Society of America, “…your accent is the way you sound when you speak. There are two different kinds of accents. One is a ‘foreign’ accent; this occurs when a person speaks one language using some of the rules or sounds of another one.”[1] The second, and I summarize, is acquired through the way a group of people speak their native language, and this can be influenced by where they live and what social groups they belong to. The French speak French, but they have their native accents depending on whether they are from the north or the south of France; whether they are educated or not very educated; and based on their social groups etc. If your accent is the way you sound when you speak, it is because you learnt and acquired your accent through speaking – your mother tongue or your first language.  

Therefore, the good news is that everyone has an accent!  We will sound “foreign” if we do not  speak exactly like people around us. I have met two French women speaking French with different accents due to the regions where they come from. If you are learning a new language, especially as an adult, you will have an accent, which could be perceptible or very noticeable depending on the sounds of your native language. Studies have shown that young children of migrant parents tend to not have perceptible accent as they ‘discard’ their first language sounds faster than their parents. They learn the “foreign” language as though it was their mother tongue without the interferences and difficulties borne from long usage of a different language sound system.

A recent example is the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, who has been reported, by the tabloids, to now speak using some American words and expressions – to be better understood by his largely-American audience, but still retaining (and not discarding) his British accent.

Thus, your accent is determined by your geographical location and interactions with people around you – your social groups. There is nothing wrong in desiring to perfect your accent to communicate better with native speakers. But, you must remember that mastering grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and punctuation shows how much you have invested in learning a foreign language. You will always command respect when you write and read a foreign language. Language immersion stays, good listening skill and consistent practice, among other tools, will help you in acquiring fluency in your chosen foreign language.

In this regard, the French government invests in setting up French language learning centers worldwide to safeguard and promote French and French language learning. This is to keep the language “alive” given the dominance of the English language, which is used, worldwide, in businesses, schools and to drive technological innovations and use.

The centers do not only teach but sponsor educational and cultural programs and events in different countries in Europe, the US, and Africa, where 54.7% of people who use French daily live [based on a 2014 Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) Report], especially in West and Central Africa! Of the 15 countries in the ECOWAS subregion, 8 countries are Francophone, 5 Anglophone and 2 Lusophone.

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    1. Joy.E

      Thank you for book-marking my website. Expect more interesting reads💕

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