Why Do We Have Accent?

A very distinctive part of non-native speakers’ speech is accent. You probably heard a foreign person speaking your native language and struggling to pronounce some sounds correctly. The same occurs to us when we speak a foreign language.

Accent is something that distinguishes native-speakers from non-native. But why do we have an accent? We are born with the ability to pronounce any sound; however, our mother tongue ‘filters off’ the sounds which it doesn’t contain. This means that after 6 years old, our ability to learn other sounds (ones which are absent from the own language) is declining. Thus, we end up having accent in a foreign language in adulthood.

The accent is shaped by the peciliarities of the mother tongue, and the level of accent varies depending on the language we learn. What does this mean? Here is example: I am Russian, and I noticeably will have accent speaking English. This is explained by the fact that the two languages are phonetically distant. There are many sounds which are different. On the opposite, when I speak Portuguese, my pronunciation is close to the level of native-speakers. The phonetics of the Russian and Portuguese languages is very similar. For instance, if you ask a Portuguese person who doesn’t speak any Russian to pronounce a phrase in Russian, s/he will do it easily and you will hardly hear the accent.

To conclude, the later we start with learning a foreign language, the more noticeable accent we will have. However, in some languages the accent will be weaker than in others due to similarities with our mother tongue.

8 thoughts on “Why Do We Have Accent?

  1. It’s a tricky thing indeed! Sometimes I struggle to understand other foreigners speaking Finnish, because there are not so many overall. I mean it’s easy to get use to only native speakers way of pronouncing things. It’s not the same with English. There are so many people, for whom English is not the first language, so you are exposed to all kind of accents and it doesn’t impact understanding at all. Interesting post, thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree! And also some foreigners either ignore endings or make mistakes applying incorrect case or conjunction, which can be crucial for the meanings in the Finnish language. Thank you for the comment! 🙂

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  2. Dialect and accent are very different, English speakers can have dialects that are very different even within 30 kilometers or so. Of course, we also have a language littered with colloquialisms to just to make it more confusing. So a Russian girl could walk into a shp in Derbyshire and say ‘Hello’ only to find the response was ‘Eyup M’Duck’ 🙂

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