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On pronouncing foreign languages (Read 1896 times)

Offline Bob

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On pronouncing foreign languages
« on: January 23, 2013, 01:51:26 AM »
Just like Asians have a more difficult time with R because it's not in their language...

Isn't that going to be true for every sound in a foreign language?  

I'm sitting here, sounding out Russian, and then listening to a native speaker.  I just sound slightly different.  I can try to purposely sound Russian but I wonder what that really sounds like to a native speaker.... Like Russian or like an American doing a stupid imitation of an accent.

Would I always just have a funny American-ish accent in any language unless I focused on it a lot, immersed myself, lived with the language enough to know....?  

And I'm thinking it's something that the similar sounds could probably be overcome with some work, but some things, like a German umlaut, might just be a little too off.  Or French vowels.  That I would probably always sound the way Asian pronouncing R sound me.  The "Wait, what the... oh, that's what they're saying" effect.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline j_menz

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #1 on: January 23, 2013, 02:22:12 AM »
LOL, as if you Americans don't have enough trouble with English.  ;D

My understanding is that after a certain age (about 5), it is very difficult to pick up new sounds, and so any foreign language you attempt will always be spoken with an accent.  There are some speech coaches who can do a very good job of disguising it, though.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #2 on: January 23, 2013, 03:39:02 AM »
Would I always just have a funny American-ish accent in any language unless I focused on it a lot, immersed myself, lived with the language enough to know....?

With a language like Russian, it is far more important to use the 6 Cases well, because they modify the meaning of what you are saying. Second, it is VERY helpful to learn something about how Russians form their words with roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

As a matter of fact, pronunciation has always been overestimated in language learning. Most textbooks start with a lesson about how to hold your tongue, squeeze your lips, etc. This is just so ineffective. What you have to do is listen, listen, listen to the melody and intonation, not to the separate sounds. Serious research shows that pronunciation should NOT be focused on. The goal is NOT to sound like a native; the goal is to make yourself understood, which is an entirely different problem. Pronunciation problems solve themselves with time.
How To Speak Like A Native

Paul
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Offline outin

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #3 on: January 23, 2013, 03:57:23 AM »

My understanding is that after a certain age (about 5), it is very difficult to pick up new sounds, and so any foreign language you attempt will always be spoken with an accent.  There are some speech coaches who can do a very good job of disguising it, though.

I don't think this applies to everyone. Some people just seem to adapt to the way people around them speak quite easily. My language is very difficult and sometimes I meet people who did not learn as a child and are very convincing...I also know many people who speak foreign languages flawlessly and did not start learning until in school. I think it's just about having good "ear" and good imitation skills.

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #4 on: January 23, 2013, 04:32:43 AM »
LOL, as if you Americans don't have enough trouble with English.  ;D

That's not exactly true. I find American a very beautiful, musical variant of English, but one needs some preparation to get the feel of how they get their effects. For example:
Quote
Betty bought a bit of better butter.
Sounds like:
Quote
Beddy bada bida bedder budder.

My understanding is that after a certain age (about 5), it is very difficult to pick up new sounds, and so any foreign language you attempt will always be spoken with an accent.

This is certainly NOT true. I started learning Russian (my 9th language) at the age of 40, and I can easily pass for a native. The real trick is to understand something about SOUND REDUCTION. Natives of ANY language do not pronounce all vowels equally. Mostly, you just have to get the sound where the accent falls right to be understood. The rest is rhythm, melody and intonation. For one who is not a native speaker, three words spoken by a native may sound like one long word that is impossible to understand, etc. That's not because they speak so fast, but because people tie words to make meaningful chunks.

Paul
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Offline j_menz

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #5 on: January 23, 2013, 04:48:06 AM »
This is certainly NOT true. I started learning Russian (my 9th language) at the age of 40, and I can easily pass for a native.

I think the more languages you speak (and the earlier you learnt some of them) the easier it is to pick up both the sounds of a new language and the actual language itself.  Possibly it is because the language learning facility does not switch off in the same way it does for monoglots, or that the language and sound producing abilities are greater and/or more flexible as a result, I'm not sure.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #6 on: January 23, 2013, 04:55:32 AM »
I think [...] I'm not sure.

It's all rather about:
1) trusting yourself not to look or sound like a fool.
2) "re-finding" the child in yourself

The rest is your sincere wish to communicate and the appreciation of the language as MUSIC. Another aspect is that your brain is not a storage place with limited capacity as so many people think. It is more like a processor with unlimited capacity, so it's no use sweating over things like acquiring vocabulary. THE best way to learn a language is to read and listen simultaneously (after you have analyzed what they are saying, of course), do that regularly, and not worry too much about the results. As soon as you get "fluent" in listening, you can try repeating after them, phrase by phrase. The STOP button should be the most often used button on your player.

Paul
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Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #7 on: January 23, 2013, 05:39:45 AM »
@ Bob

Much in Russian is based on German, French and Latin words. To understand real Russian words (not that many, by the way), you need to study roots and see how productive they are in building new words. As soon as you're ready, go here: All Roots (coding = UTF-8).

Here's a picture for you with some examples of what you can do with roots. Understanding this system will greatly boost your ability to learn new words:



Paul
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Offline costicina

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #8 on: January 23, 2013, 09:11:43 AM »
Paul, which languages do you speak? I'm envious!!!
Everylanguage disclose you an intere way  of 'seeing' and 'thinking' the world, or a new world altogether.
I'm fascinated with Russian at the moment...

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #9 on: January 23, 2013, 10:21:20 AM »
Paul, which languages do you speak? I'm envious!!!

Since I was born in Belgium: Dutch and French to start with.

At school, I learned Latin, ancient Greek, English, and German (the latter 2, I perfected myself, since the school program provides only the basics more or less).

Since I had the basis of Latin and French already, I very easily learned Italian and Spanish at a level where I can easily understand ANY talk show on ANY topic in those languages. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough opportuntity to practise speaking during the last couple of  years, so I cannot call myself fluent anymore in that respect. From what I remember in the back of my head, grammar in the Roman languages was not very easy to learn.

The last language I learned really well is Russian. Since Latin and ancient Greek also have 6 cases, this considerably helped in developing a very systematic approach, because you have to know 12 forms for each word (6 for singular and six for plural and there are different accent patterns for different groups of words). I also know a little Japanese since my Karate teacher was Japanese. Now, I'm learning Mandarin Chinese and after that, I plan on doing Cantonese. No complaints about lack of communication, since there are plenty of people who speak Chinese. ;D

P.S.: You have to use the language if you don't want to forget it. Actually, since I don't use Dutch (my native language) anymore, I'm already getting the "on-the-tip-of-my tongue" syndrom, the failure to retrieve words from memory. Instead, I tend to mix in Russian and/or English words, which I use a lot more often.

Everylanguage disclose you an intere way  of 'seeing' and 'thinking' the world, or a new world altogether.

Yes, very much so. Knowing other languages is VERY interesting in more than one way. For example, I have found that sometimes you find "safe" ways to express feelings that would be too painful, too confronting, too shocking to talk about in your native language. Another language is not just other words you learn or other grammar; it's often a completely different culture and other dimensions, images of everything. This fascinates me too.

Paul
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Offline costicina

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #10 on: January 23, 2013, 11:58:48 AM »
 I studied Latin,  ancient Greek and German, so maybe Russian is not a mission impossibile. You know, I've not the ambition to speak fluently thee languages, above all I'd like to be able to read the literature of those cultures. The best of translation is always unsatisfactory: in Italian we say: "tradurre=tradire"....

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #11 on: January 23, 2013, 12:36:05 PM »
in Italian we say: "tradurre=tradire"....

Which means: "To translate is to betray [the original]". Very often, this is true, yes. You cannot simply replace Italian words with Russian words and hope for the best. Changes will always have to be made and it takes great knowledge of both languages and cultures to convey what the author really meant.

Paul
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Offline Bob

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #12 on: January 23, 2013, 11:31:44 PM »
Haha.... Stick with Latin.  Who knows how they actually pronounced it?
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #13 on: January 24, 2013, 03:42:36 AM »
Haha.... Stick with Latin.  Who knows how they actually pronounced it?

I don't think Latin is dead, so Italian pronunciation would be my logical choice. Here's a clip about the arguments for and against classical and Italian pronunciation:
Latin Pronunciation: Classical versus Italian

Paul
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Offline costicina

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #14 on: January 24, 2013, 12:24:07 PM »
Great clip, thanks!!!!

Offline oxy60

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #15 on: January 24, 2013, 05:25:15 PM »
Now back to answer Bob's question. You will never loose your American accent the same as you will never loose your American look and mannerisms.

If you get the language down perfectly you will still be an American speaking perfect (...). The natives will not be fooled easily.

That said, there is still a wonderful rich life to be had in foreign countries. Far more important than getting the language perfect is to understand how things work.

In one country I used my nose to show a bi-lingual native where certain important documents were located at the city hall. We walked through the halls until I selected a door with a familiar smell. We entered and I told my friend to ask the lady behind the desk. We left with copies of exactly what he needed.
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  John Muir  (We all need to get out more.)

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #16 on: January 24, 2013, 06:11:53 PM »
You will never loose your American accent the same as you will never loose your American look and mannerisms.

You are really too pessimistic, oxy60. There is still something like an inborn talent for imitation, a musician's ear, etc. My wife, who is a native Russian, was very surprised by the high level of Russian some American people in the US embassy had; almost indistinguishable from native Russians. They got rid of the American "R" in their Russian, which is what you can usually  recognize them by, just as you can recognize Russians by the way they pronounce the "H" (I khave a khouse, etc.).

Most Americans I met here in Moscow had trouble believing that I, a Dutchman, was not an American and that I had actually never been to the States, although they couldn't determine where exactly I was from. I guess one would call that "General American", right?

When Russians hear me speak their language, they think I'm from one of the Baltic states (where almost everybody speaks Russian with a slight accent), but certainly not Dutch. For me, this means that I still have something to work on, although I'm close.

P.S.: Actually, a slight accent can also have something attractive to it. If in doubt, ask members of the opposite sex, especially if they are native speakers of your target language...

Paul
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Offline oxy60

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #17 on: January 25, 2013, 01:52:40 AM »
You are not the first Dutch person to have success with a foreign language. I'm married to a Dutch girl and we have several friends who can almost pass for "native."

The poster of this thread is an American guy, like me. You can spot us anywhere no matter how well we speak the language.
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  John Muir  (We all need to get out more.)

Offline j_menz

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #18 on: January 25, 2013, 02:25:52 AM »
The poster of this thread is an American guy, like me. You can spot us anywhere no matter how well we speak the language.

Are you sure it's the accent?

"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #19 on: January 25, 2013, 03:54:24 AM »
The poster of this thread is an American guy, like me. You can spot us anywhere no matter how well we speak the language.

I recall only one typical example of an American guy that really drew everybody's attention. I met him in the center of Moscow (he was talking really loudly in a very broken Russian accent). He was not satisfied with his hotel room because there was no toilet paper there, which was not unusual some years ago. I invited him to my home to call other hotels. We found one that looked attractive, so on the phone he started the conversation by asking in his best Russian: "AllOa, Vi govorEEtye pa rOOsski?" (an attempt at "Hello, do you speak Russian?"). On the other end, they didn't understand the humor and hung up: beep, beep, beep... ;D

Paul
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Offline chopin2015

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #20 on: January 25, 2013, 04:28:49 AM »
I recall only one typical example of an American guy that really drew everybody's attention. I met him in the center of Moscow (he was talking really loudly in a very broken Russian accent). He was not satisfied with his hotel room because there was no toilet paper there, which was not unusual some years ago. I invited him to my home to call other hotels. We found one that looked attractive, so on the phone he started the conversation by asking in his best Russian: "AllOa, Vi govorEEtye pa rOOsski?" (an attempt at "Hello, do you speak Russian?"). On the other end, they didn't understand the humor and hung up: beep, beep, beep... ;D

Paul



Haha!

Well we have a hard time pronouncing english... words such as piece and cheek

Examples: i want a piss of cake
My butt chick hurts.

Eh??
"Beethoven wrote in three flats a lot. That's because he moved twice."

Offline p2u_

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #21 on: January 25, 2013, 04:34:14 AM »
Well we have a hard time pronouncing english... words such as piece and cheek

Examples: i want a piss of cake
My butt chick hurts.

Do you know this one? The Italian Man Who went to Malta.

Paul
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Offline chopin2015

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #22 on: January 25, 2013, 04:47:52 AM »
Haha! That was cute.
"Beethoven wrote in three flats a lot. That's because he moved twice."

Offline lloyd_cdb

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #23 on: January 25, 2013, 04:10:00 PM »
For those interested in learning English pronunciation:

I've been trying to give myself a healthy reminder: http://internetsarcasm.com/

Offline oxy60

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Re: On pronouncing foreign languages
«Reply #24 on: January 26, 2013, 09:33:53 PM »
If you listen carefully, you can hear the differences from various places in the same country. Even the major broadcast networks have trouble getting everybody to sound the same.
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  John Muir  (We all need to get out more.)