23 April 2012

Sounding like a native.

Check out this video of an American speaking excellent Spanish, and I mean excellent. His name is Richard Vaughan, of the Vaughan language schools in Spain. (He should plug LingQ for me since I am plugging Vaughan, but then I was just so impressed with his Spanish.-:)

Would his Spanish be more impressive if he sounded just like a native? I don’t think so. He has total mastery. This is the ultimate goal of language learning. Pursuing the goal of actually sounding like a native is unnecessary, a distraction from the real task of language learning, and highly unlikely to succeed. I have seen people pursue this goal and end up sounding like caricatures, while not achieving the language mastery that Vaughan has achieved. Here is a video I just did on the subject.

6 Comments

  1. Un Canadien errant
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    When actress and singer Jane Birkin first came to France during the sixties, she spoke very little French. She then got this advice from her future husband Serge Gainsbourg: “Never lose your accent. If you lose it, the French will stop loving you” . In other words: stay yourself. This anecdote illustrate a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, most people feel ashamed of their accent when they learn a new language while on the other, people in general often feel attracted to foreign accents. It is true, not all accents are well perceived and it is not always pleasant to get attention because of your accent: to be able to go unnoticed also has many advantages…

  2. Briar
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen this video? This girl is 5 years old and speaks 7 languages. I’m wondering if she will develop a native accent in all of these or none. What do you think?http://youtu.be/BFK2UHKtw98

  3. Leandro
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I would like to see a video from you talking about the difficulties of your languages. I saw your discussion with Felix from Brussels and you said that Russian is harder than Chinese, in your opinion. I think it is possible to make a ranking on difficulties of these languages or something like that.

  4. Katie
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    I concur that sounding native, while maybe not impossible, is at least overrated. Accents are actually wonderful things. I first even thought about this while visiting a friend in Finland, years and years ago. She told me that she and all her friends were embarassed to speak English, because they had Finnish accents. Well, they also spoke English perfectly. I thought. Why would a Finnish accent have any lesser value than a Minnesotan accent or a Californian accent or a British accent, etc.? I think why people have this phobia about it is they equate having a foreign accent with speaking badly, but it really doesn’t have to be the case.

  5. Luciano
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I find : to lose accent is very artificial, the greatness of a language is to support an enormity of accents until in writeness.

  6. Lucero
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I think that most people can sound like a native (in terms of accent) if they actually try and/or are taught. But the thing is many people do not want to — they feel like they are losing something if they do not have an accent. I have dealt with this issue with students I have taught, who in spite of having very heavy accents refused to work on diminishing them because it would make them less "French, Spanish, etc." Personally, I have always tried to sound like a native in pronunciation and I have. I think because that was my goal and I also do not believe that I need to show people I am an American by having an accent when I speak another language. Also schools (especially universities) fall back on the theory that adults cannot learn pronunciation and will always sound like a non-native in another language. If you start with that premise, then you make it happen. Teachers don’t bother to deal with pronunciation (and they don’t have time to do so, so this justifies it) and students don’t even bother because their accents are accepted and they feel like they can’t do any better. The man in the video does not have a very thick accent that impedes understanding his Spanish. Obviously he has been very successful in Spain regardless. I do think that if one is planning to teach languages to beginners (especially in a country where the language is not spoken, for example, French in the U.S.) you should have pronunciation that sounds native-like (even if you are not a native) because the student has no familiarity with the language. He/she is doomed to having inferior pronunciation if the dominant model he/she hears is a teacher speaking French with a non-native sounding accent.

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