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Why is It Arduous to Pronounce a New Language?


Probably the most frequent insecurities for brand spanking new language learners is having an accent of their new language. Why is it so laborious to study the sounds of our new languages within the first place? The straightforward reply is that the reply isn’t actually that easy! 😅

Everybody has an accent, even in their very own language, and after we study a brand new language we’d begin doing numerous desirous about how we sound in that one, too. Our mouths—and brains— know a lot in regards to the sounds of our personal language, and we take all of that data with us after we study a brand new one. Here is why we have now accents in our new languages!

Duolingo characters Oscar and Bea smiling and waving, with speech bubbles above them.

Sounds 101: What we learn about our personal language

Languages are systematic, and as people we’re actually good at studying patterns—particularly in a language we have now been utilizing our complete lives! We regularly don’t understand how a lot we learn about our first language, however we’re already consultants in every kind of unconscious data about sounds. Listed below are some examples of belongings you may not know that you recognize:

  • Particular person sounds. For instance, English has numerous phrases with “th,” however it’s really a fairly unusual sound on the planet’s languages! German, for instance, has phrases which might be spelled with “th”, however pronounced with “t” or “d” sounds as a substitute.
  • Rhythm and intonation. In English, it is not uncommon to make your voice go up on the finish of a query, and even how lengthy we pronounce every vowel and phrase is a form of unconscious data that varies in line with language!
  • Guidelines for combining sounds. What sorts of sounds can go subsequent to one another in phrases is one other form of language-specific data! In English, a number of consonant sounds can go collectively firstly of a phrase (take into consideration the “s,” “ok,” and “r” sounds in scratch), however many languages, comparable to Hawaiian, choose to area out their consonants with vowels in between (ʻūlū is Hawaiian for “scratch”).

All of those options may be actually completely different throughout languages! This wonderful unconscious linguistic data is what helps us use our languages rapidly and effectively to speak.
We use this know-how for talking and listening to our language. That’s the factor about accents: They’re a two-way road. We communicate and pay attention with them!

Bringing outdated sounds to a brand new language

All of that details about your first language is form of like your mind’s language working system, and also you’ve been listening and talking with that software program on your complete life! When studying a brand new language, it’s like it’s a must to arrange a brand new working system, and also you naturally convey your outdated software program (pronunciation data!) with you.

A part of an “accent” comes from bringing the sounds you recognize from one language to your new language. No two languages share precisely the identical sounds or methods of saying them, so you will should study new sound guidelines and patterns that you have by no means needed to pronounce earlier than! As you acquire expertise with the brand new sounds, your language working system will strive that can assist you out by slipping in comparable sounds from the languages you already know.

For instance, many English audio system have a tough time saying r’s in different languages—just like the rolled “r” in Arabic or the French “r”—since English “r” is pronounced in a unique a part of the mouth and with completely different actions. When English audio system got down to study French, they create all of that English “r” expertise with them, and will find yourself saying the French “r” just like the English one! English audio system mainly should retrain their mind and mouth. The extra they hear and say the French “r,” they construct up their experience and pronounce the “r” nearer to French every time. This sort of change doesn’t occur in a single day, as a result of it’s a must to retrain muscle tissues that you have been transferring in the identical manner because you began babbling as a child!

The Duolingo owl, Duo, and the character Lily walking together. Lily is talking and gesturing, and she looks bored, like she's talking in a monotone.

Studying the rhythm of a brand new language

When studying a brand new language, additionally, you will convey over the rhythm, stress, and intonation of your individual language (all these collectively are known as prosody). These parts, like going up on the finish of a sentence when asking a query in English, assist set the tone and supply additional data for the viewers.

For instance, in English, we emphasize a sure a part of a phrase (the “confused” syllable) and actually shorten the remainder of it. The English phrase banana is a superb instance of this—we emphasize the center a part of the phrase however velocity by means of the primary and final elements (buh-NA-nuh). Not solely does phrase stress change the tempo of various elements of a phrase, however it additionally impacts the rhythm of complete sentences in English!

This isn’t the case in all languages. In Italian, for instance, every syllable is pronounced for about the identical period of time, even the confused syllables, nearly just like the regular beat of a single drum. This may be tough for English audio system to study, since English rhythm works in a different way. However, with observe, English audio system can choose up Italian rhythm and efficiently order limoncello after dinner in Campania!

Sound mixture guidelines in a brand new language

Sound mixture guidelines consult with how we are able to and can’t mix sounds to make phrases in our languages. Over years of talking our language, sound combos get saved as muscle reminiscence: Our minds and mouths get used to producing the identical sound combos!

Think about an English speaker transferring their mouth to pronounce the Russian phrase zdravstvuite (howdy), which begins with “z,” “d,” and “r” collectively. Since English doesn’t have phrases that begin with “zdr,” bodily saying these sounds collectively can really feel clunky at first! An English speaker brings their biases for not combining these three sounds, regardless that “z,” “d,” and “r” are completely high quality in English on their very own.

This isn’t simply true for English and Russian! Many languages do not mix consonants as freely as English or Russian (together with Persian and Hawaiian), making combos like “xths” in sixths very difficult!

Accents needs to be worn as a badge of honor!

Language is for connection and communication: If you happen to’re in a position to talk and construct human connection (with an accent), then you definitely’re already reaching the primary objectives of language!

Studying a brand new sound system can really feel irritating at first, and it’s frequent to concentrate on the way you’re saying new phrases. However bear in mind, accents are an emblem of so many constructive issues:

  • Connection to tradition. Talking with an accent is an indication that you’ve got a connection to a specific tradition and neighborhood, whether or not it’s in your individual language or a brand new one.
  • Studying a brand new ability. Having an accent is a telltale signal that you’re studying a brand new ability that can join you with an entire new neighborhood of individuals, and that’s one thing to be pleased with!
  • Totally different lived expertise. A non-native accent indicators that you could be be from a unique metropolis or nation, and this may really be useful: If you happen to’re asking for instructions in a brand new metropolis, an ideal accent would possibly get you a response full of native cultural references (“You understand the place that outdated movie show was once? Flip down that road and stroll previous the park the place they’ve summer season concert events”).
  • Indicators of multilingualism. Accents can inform listeners that we communicate a number of languages, which isn’t any small feat!
  • Elevated cognitive skills. Studying a brand new language has constructive results on our brains! That problem or mind “itch” chances are you’ll really feel when talking one other language is definitely rising cognitive skills like psychological alertness.

Everybody has an accent, and having a non-native accent in a brand new language (or not so new language) is totally regular! These are simply half of an extended record of causes that an accent is a constructive factor! So, get on the market and flex that accent!

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