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XiaoXi

Differences in English accents . . .

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XiaoXi
For the same reason that people started saying "to-mey-to", "mom" and "fasterrrrrrr" instead of continuing to use some British accent.

That's just accent changes. They're just pronounced slightly different, they're not different words entirely!

The disappearing of "sh", "zh" and "ch" is an influence of the local dialect on Mandarin. Just like the "er" (which is a part of the mainland standard today, but rarely used in Taiwan) is an influence of Manchurian.

There's nothing wrong with all these accents and it happens in English too (ie my example of people saying 'fanks' instead of 'thanks') but its something to worry about when foreigners are actually being taught this kind of incorrect Chinese. I apologise for referring to us as foreigners but its a habit you pick up if you stay in China longer than a few minutes. :tong It seems in Shanghai at least that this is not happening but I fear it does happen in places such as Taiwan.

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renzhe
That's just accent changes. They're just pronounced slightly different, they're not different words entirely!

Well, it's just a peculiarity of Chinese, that there are 20 words pronounced "si" and 20 pronounced "shi".

This is not common in other languages. The Taiwanese are not saying "四", they are saying "是" with an accent. The two are the same even in many Mandarin dialects, like Sichuanese.

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jiangping

I once saw a sign at Camden market in London saying "anyfink for a pound" :mrgreen:

I think that pronouncing "th" as "f" does sound quite common to the average British ear, but in reality it has little correlation with educational background.

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animal world
I once saw a sign at Camden market in London saying "anyfink for a pound"

Maybe they were indeed selling finks. Although a pound seems a steep price for such "commodity." :)

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wushijiao
Haha. American is different but they basically pronounce everything the same. Its not different enough to make some of their words sound like other words which is what's happening in Chinese when interchange sh for s, zh for z etc.

Have you ever taught English to non-natives? :D What for you and me might seem like very minor differences in English pronunciation can completely stump a beginner or intermediate learner of English. Once you get to relatively significant differences in English pronunciation (say, northern England English or Ebonics English or English as spoken by Indians) some people who seemingly have very good English listening skills simply understand next to nothing.

In China at least, that is because 99% of the things students listen to is either in upper-class Southern England English or the so-called BBC English (although even the BBC uses more regional accents now, so perhaps that term is out of date), or it is in "neutral" American mid-western English (ie. you never hear regional accents from the South, Jersey, Boston...etc). At some point, for the learner of English, especially intermediate and advanced learners, this overexposure to a few speech accents becomes a liability. That's why I think it's valuable to expose oneself to different regional pronunciations.

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XiaoXi
Well, it's just a peculiarity of Chinese, that there are 20 words pronounced "si" and 20 pronounced "shi".

Yes but in Taiwanese there are 40 words pronounced "si"...

This is not common in other languages. The Taiwanese are not saying "四", they are saying "是" with an accent. The two are the same even in many Mandarin dialects, like Sichuanese.

If I pronounce 'thanks' as 'fanks' its pretty bad compared with most accent changes because I've actually altered the initial consonant which would cause most confusion. But 'fanks' is not another word so it shouldn't cause too much confusion. Although saying the number 3 sounds like 'free' which is a bit weird. But with Chinese if you alter the initial consonant its ALWAYS a completely different word. Moreover, people who say 'fanks' aren't to my knowledge teaching English (I should certainly hope not) but people in Chinese who exchange zh for z, sh for s etc ARE. That's the real issue.

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realmayo

The fact that people in the south don't use the "h" in sh, zh or ch shows that you don't need the "h"... There's no sense in people speaking a language in a way where they can't understand one another. If the language didn't work without the "h", they'd add it -- or some other change to make themselves understood.

The fact that it may be difficult for some foreigners, or some northerners, to understand, is beside the point.

The flip side is that pesky putonghua speakers pronounce the second character of certain bisyllabic words without any tone, and I've heard that many northerners do this in more cases than is correct by putonghua standards.

Of course, if the complaint is that you're not being taught correct putonghua in a putonghua class, that's a fair complaint.

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calibre2001
At some point, for the learner of English, especially intermediate and advanced learners, this overexposure to a few speech accents becomes a liability. That's why I think it's valuable to expose oneself to different regional pronunciations.

I think you mean underexposure right?

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wushijiao
I think you mean underexposure right?

Yes, thanks. :oops:

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imron

Are you sure? The way I read it, in the context of the full paragraph it was overexposure to BBC English and American mid-west English.

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kudra
Some (North) Americans apparently pronounce 'Mary', 'marry' and 'merry' the same way.

yes! No problem merging them in Chicago.

Also regarding th -> f, in the U.S. I would say this would quite possibly be heard a feature of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Specifically:

AAVE speakers may not use the dental fricatives [θ] (the th in thin) and [ð] (the th of then) that are present in SE. The actual alternative phone used depends on the sound's position in a word.[21] (This, too, is a common substitution is many regional dialects, including parts of the South, and in New York, as readily heard in movies and television shows set in these areas.)

* Word-initially, /θ/ is normally the same as in SE (so thin is [θɪn]).

* Word-initially, /ð/ is [d] (so this is [dɪs]).

* Word-medially and -finally, /θ/ is realized as either [f] or [t] (so [mʌmf] or [mʌnt] for month); /ð/ as either [v] or [d] (so [smuːv] for smooth).

So if you say, "Everyone knows the earf is round," your language may be heard to carry some socio-economic/cultural baggage you did not intend.

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joshuawbb

I agree very much with wushijiao's post. I certainly don't have experience teaching English here in China but studying English as a language learned by others, and studying it's history and components was my key subject back in college in the UK.

Just as wushijiao said the underexposure to regional accents and too much emphasis on accents such as RP ("BBC" accent) or a "neutral" American accent would become a definite limitation in regards to listening comprehension of British people with other accents. Britain is a small group of countries with huge regional variation in accent - there are not simply "Northern" and "Southern" accents but dense variation often even by city. There are various types of northern accents, various southern accents, then you have the Scottish, Welsh and Irish accents which of course, often vary too by region within said countries.

One of my closest friends lives back in my hometown down in the south of England, but his parents are Scottish. When they are apparent on TV his parents sometimes pointed out to me the accents differences between someone from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, etc... Likewise in England someone might have a so-called Manchester accent, or Bolton accent, Birhimgham accent... At the same time, such accents may often be part of a broader accent though.

That being said, I wonder how it may be possible to approach that sort of problem. A Chinese student speaking confidently with a strong RP (RP = Received Pronunciation; "BBC" accent) accent would have no problems making him/herself understood, but varying accents, as wushijiao said, could easily stump a learner, including intermediate learners. For example, a Chinese friend of mine was living in Reading, England earlier in the year and is at least an high-intermediate/advanced speaker. She often had some trouble comprehending her Bolton (I think) manager's meaning when talking over the phone. It might just be down to speed though.

While I was studying English regional variation in accent and dialect, I saw a very interesting documentary about Chinese students in London. Instead of focusing on learning an RP accent, the teachers taught the students to speak with a cross Cockney and Estuary English accent (two accents commonly spoken around London and the River Thames). The Chinese students were also filmed walking around London and asking questions like "Excuse me mate, do you know where the rail station is?" (just a typical, informal example) in those accents. The Chinese students described that their listening comprehension was more comfortable when a Londoner or someone responded in the same or a similar accent.

I think it's an interesting idea; the idea of the training school (from what I remember) wasn't to try and cancel out a typical RP accent in favour of something regional - it was just a hypothesis that if someone from abroad is going to live long-term or reside in London, then he/she may feel more easily at home when knowing the local lingo - for better listening comprehension when talking with locals. London is naturally a melting-pot of accents since it's so "international", but I think it's a good idea. If a Chinese student is say, studying somewhere such as Sheffield or Manchester where a particular northern accent tends to be prevalant, why not make listening easier and more comfortable by having a good command of the lingo?

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wushijiao
I think it's an interesting idea; the idea of the training school (from what I remember) wasn't to try and cancel out a typical RP accent in favour of something regional - it was just a hypothesis that if someone from abroad is going to live long-term or reside in London, then he/she may feel more easily at home when knowing the local lingo - for better listening comprehension when talking with locals. London is naturally a melting-pot of accents since it's so "international", but I think it's a good idea. If a Chinese student is say, studying somewhere such as Sheffield or Manchester where a particular northern accent tends to be prevalant, why not make listening easier and more comfortable by having a good command of the lingo?

I agree joshuawbb. If you're actually living somewhere in the the target country, it shouldn't be too hard to get opportunities to mimic accents. For example:

Person: "So, yesterday I went to the football game."

You: "oh..the football game" (said while consciously imitating their accent).

I hate to sound like a broken record, but one of the best ways to learn a language, in my opinion, is to do massive amounts of listening based on authentic materials prepared for native speaker audiences (radio, TV, movies...and of course real conversations). If you do lots of listening on a daily basis, you should have no problem mastering the most commonly used forms of accents (whether it be standard neutral midwestern accents, or a version of modified RP, or in the Chinese case, standard Putonghua). As I've also said, for the learner, the biggest problem is over-exposure to these types, and under-exposure to other regional accents. For example, I used to teach IELTS test prep to Chinese college students. The IELTS test (or at least the test prep materials) tried to vary the accents used in the listening section. There were never any heavy accents, but there were sometimes light regional accents, or even accents of Indian English. It was always interesting for me to see that often the students, who were pretty good, could basically catch almost nothing when seemingly small amounts of accents were used.

As a learner, I think you could follow a few different strategies to get better at regional accents:

1) Mimic native speakers (I know an ESL teacher in San Fransisco that would use exaggerated body language and talk really loud, and then he'd have his students mimic him, almost like an acting exercise. Of course, everybody laughed and had a good time. But the point was to teach students (who were primarily Asian and often somewhat shy) to feel comfortable mimicking him, and then they would hopefully feel comfortable in mimicking others).

2) Watch a TV series made with a regional accents.

3) Try to learn some of the patterns of regional accents, and where and how they differ from the norm.

4) In the case of Chinese, do listening drills for tones, and try to consciously listen and "note" the tones in your head when you are listening. In regional forms of Putonghua, tones vary much less than pinyin.

5) For English, try to consciously note and get good at connecting speech. If a student reads in English, and reads in their head using connected speech (rather than word by word), then I think he or she will be much better able to handle regional accents.

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adrianlondon

I hate people I don't know using "mate". That's just me, though ;)

I went to University in Loughborough and sometimes when I went to Derby the bus drivers would say "alright me duck" as I got on. You need to know the language quite well to instantly know that this is just something odd they say around Derby rather than looking frantically for a duck.

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xianhua
You need to know the language quite well to instantly know that this is just something odd they say around Derby

They call you 'duck' in Stoke on Trent too. :)

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anonymoose

Try calling a Chinese guy "duck" and see what happens.

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jbradfor

Probably better than calling her a chicken.... :D

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skylee

if the guy happens to be Cantonese with a name containing the word 得 or 德, he might just say, "how come you know my name?"

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joshuawbb

I find it very interesting about acquiring regional accents, and I entirely agree with you, wushijiao. My experience in-depth isn't quite as far as yours, but I think the listening and imitation is by far the most natural way - and actually studying individual linguistic features of accents and whatnot makes everything far too complicated.

My hometown is Basingstoke and there seems to be somewhat of a mixing-pot of accents here, though I think Basingstoke's general area (suburban Hampshire, in the south of England) has a kind of accent among citizens, and particularly the youth. I can't really put my finger on it - most of us back in English Language class found it hard to actually study our accent, probably because we speak it among ourselves and are conditioned to it. Is it typical that one's own accent is most difficult to pull apart and study? A friend of mine back in college was from Macau, and I believe she had been in the UK for two/three years before she travelled back at the same time I left for Xiamen. She had a glowing social life and was always around friends. By the time I met her in the second year of college her accent was incredibly authentic (Basingstoke/Hampshire) and I couldn't believe she hadn't been in the UK for longer. She was hitting all the pronunciation marks I could think of, including some non-fluency features like pronounced hesitations typical of that accent.

I met my girlfriend (she is Chinese) first as a friend through the internet, over a year and a half before I came to China, so after we got closer we spoke most days on the phone for at least a year. Now I''ve neither qualification nor experience in teaching so I'm not trying to overstate my role at all, but I tried to help her English often, and over the year her English developed incredibly well; my family and I find her fluency really remarkable. But most interestingly, probably from our hundreds of conversation hours, she's picked up my accent and speaks just like me most of the time. I like that :D

I asked her yesterday about the IETLS test too, and she said her test contained lots of different accents and found them somewhat difficult, though I don't think she struggled - her ability was still very good I suppose. I entirely agree that exposure to more accents is really important, and the IETLS tests outline that.

The mimicking sounds very effective and I think that fun and laughter is always a good part of language learning in moderation. Confidence is the key with that I think, building comfort too. My current Chinese teacher likes to have a laugh sometimes, though unfortunately I don't think his learning strategy is very effective right now.

Thank you for your really informative post, and sorry to be a bit late. My internet time is limited to I tend to come here in bursts.

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