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21 Don't fret the accent

With the possible exception of spies in wartime, speaking a language with a foreign accent is unlikely to get you shot. In times of peace, when the consequences of being given away by your pronunciation would have less dramatic consequences, it could still be argued that speaking with a foreign accent is a sign of bravery, as with anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.

There are several plates we have to keep spinning when studying a language:

(1) memorising vocabulary and phrases

(2) learning grammar points to form sentences

(3) improving comprehension, and

(4) acquiring a good accent are all key aspects.

It would be easy to say that they are all as important as each other, but one thing to remember is that it would take years of study to get a perfect accent, so that is not really what we are striving for. Clear pronunciation, so that you can at least be understood, is our primary aim.

Imagine a non-native speaker of English. Are we not impressed when people learning our notoriously difficult language are able to express themselves using interesting figures of speech? Getting the words in the correct order and being able to name five different garden birds are more impressive than being able to sound like they were born and bred in rural Buckinghamshire. Granted, it does sound strange when someone is both able to use very advanced structures, but appears unable or unwilling to shake off their accent that makes them sound like a character from Allo Allo!

The other way around is also sometimes the case: to speak with perfect-sounding pronunciation, and yet make the most basic of grammatical errors. This is much less common!

So, where are you on the four-point spectrum? Please don’t worry about your accent, if this is the plate that is not spinning as smoothly as the others. We rarely do whole lessons of pronunciation practice, partly because everyone in the group has different needs, and partly because the most effective way to improve is to listen to others. What you listen to is your own choice, and will be more effective if it is the sort of thing that you’d listen to anyway: Tune into the French news, watch a Spanish Netflix series, listen to some Schubert Lieder…

To finish the point about pronunciation: Whereas some people make fun when someone terribly mispronounces a word in conversation, to me it shows that it has been acquired by reading it somewhere, which is also an admirable habit to develop.

Last of all, if there is a fifth plate to spin, then it is surely that of learning as many cultural references as possible. In the last lesson of this past term, we took a look at the Christmas traditions of France, Germany and Spain. If you are interested to find out more about how other countries celebrate the holiday season, there are hundreds of YouTube clips on the subject. To save you surfing, try this: Top 10 Most Incredible Christmas Celebrations Around the World - YouTube

Does watching this make you want to travel again? How about a SameSky language-learning trip this time next year? German Christmas markets? Skiing in the French Alps? Visiting one of the many Spanish festivals? Watch this space…

To find out more about the services provided by SameSky Languages, and especially if you would like to enrol on a course, please contact me via this link

Andrew Wenger

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