Teaching a Foreign Language? Best Teach in the Accent of the Listener

ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2010) — Perception of second language speech is easier when it is spoken in the accent of the listener and not in the 'original' accent of that language, shows a new study from the University of Haifa. The study was published in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

Many adult schools teaching second languages insist on exposing their students to the languages in their 'original' accents. However, this new study, carried out by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim and Dr. Mark Leikin of the University of Haifa's Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Prof. Zohar Eviatar of the Department of Psychology and Prof. Shimon Sapir of the Department of Learning Disabilities, found that this system is not necessarily the best and certainly not the most expeditious.

The present study set out to reveal the level of phonological information that the adult learner requires in order to identify words in a second language that had been learned at a later age, and whether the level of phonological information that they require varies when the words are pronounced in different accents.

Read more:

Do you agree with this?
Do you think you would then understand the natives' accent when talking to them?
Why does this seem to work better for adults?
Would you like to tell us about how this works for you?


  1. Paloma Blanco3/1/10, 6:09 PM

    In my case I understand quite better someone who has a british English than any other accent.For instance I find quite difficult to understand people from India who speak to you in English language. I find they have a very strong accent and they don't pronounce well. I find very curious in the other hand that children learn very fast foreing languages and they literally act like sponges something that don't happen with adults.

  2. Hello:

    I am agree with Paloma, it is more easy understand one british person than another person from asian continent or ever American.

    When I am studying English and I ask my husband how my pronunciation is, he always reply to me: "Está bien ese inglés del Moncayo". The fact is that when I was working in the office, my colleagues speaked english and I though: "el inglés del Moncayo". I could understand them but I was incapable of speaking in English on telephone.


  3. Ahem...British, Bristish?
    Have you talked to someone from, let's say, a village in the West Midlands, Wales or North, North Scotland...? --no offence intended- They are British!!

    or are you talking about R.P. accent...

    Listen to these different accents:

    Or to Hugh Laurie/Dr. House, British vs. American accent:

    ...Shouldn't this be another post instead of a comment ??...

  4. Víctor Turégano Acosta3/3/10, 8:41 AM

    Last year I travelled to Orkney Islands, where an English friend was spending one month. These islands are in the far north of Scotland, at the same latitude as southern Norway. People has a very strong accent there, even more than that from the Highlands, which I also know. Its main characteristic is a quite musical intonation. Besides, they use many different words for the same things as the English. Anyway, my opinion is that there are not easy-to-get and difficult-to-get accents; it depends on what are you acustomed to. If it's the case that you are not acustomed to anyone, then you'll find equally difficult to understand the Hindus' English or the BBC English. Furthermore, usually native speakers use a wider vocabulary and a more complex grammatics, so it's not strange at all that a beginner find easier to communicate with other foreigners than with them.

  5. In my case, it is easier for me to understand people from other countries in Europe than some people from Britain and America. It is also true that it depends on the pronunciation of the speakers, because sometimes that I spoke to american or british people I understood them quite well. I think it is very important how people vocalise. Haven't you ever had a problem to understand some spanish people due to their bad pronunciation?

  6. Hi everybody,

    I hadn't stopped to think in the question that Lucía set out about north Britain accent. I haven't understand anything what people said in that videos and I am quite worried, disappointed...
    On the other hand, yesterday I did an exam in the EOI and there were three listening, two of them were with a extrange accent and I understood very little thing and although I think the reading and the comprehension did good I don't think I pass this exam.

    Cristina González Angós

  7. Víctor, thanks for your clever comments and thanks, María too, your question is really interesting and makes us think. It's the same in all languages. Have you ever met someone in Spain who pronounces correctly "hasta luego"??
    The closer pronunciation must be 'taluego!
    By the way, does any of you know the origin of the word "Cheers" ?

    Cristina, we all have been where you are know, it is just part of improving, sometimes we feel like giving up, it seems we will never understand a listening, it seems we will never say a proper word, etc. Keep on working and trying, listen to English more often, practice recording your own voice at home, listen to videos on you tube, etc. It takes time but you will improve!!

  8. Paloma Blanco3/3/10, 8:16 PM

    Yes you are right: British accents are very different. Once I had a teacher from Birmigham and it was a terrible accent, first day I could harldy understand her, I thought he was going to think I was deaf. Thanks God I could got used to her accent but it was very tough.The curious thing I find is that almost nobody realise we have an accent: even people from Madrid, we think we don´t have any accent and when we travel to another region people say we have it. Its fantastic the Dr. House program , I love it. That´s the accent I would like to have one day, I am very optimistic as you see :-)

  9. Hello Lucía,

    Thanks a lot for your spirits. I will go on trying improve.

    I have been having a browse on the internet about the word "Cheers" and apparently this word meant "your face, your conuntenance" but as time goes by its meaning has changed. It's strange how the words develop in time but that happen in every language and will go on occuring.

    Best Regards,
    Cristina González

  10. Hello Lucía,

    Brilliant challenge!! I love the Midlands accent but then I spent quite some time there so the first video brought lots of memories.
    Fortunaltelly this is now, because at the beginning of my time there I could hardly understand a word.

    Cristina, don't worry if you don't understand things, keep on trying and one day you'll realise you watch a video and everythin is crystal clear to you. To me,some of the American English accents are the most difficult ones (I blame it on the fact that I'm more used to accents from England)

    To be honest, I really enjoy posts and links like those because they are really challenging. I have a doubt with accents, I cannot tell an Australian accent, could we hear any examples of it?

    Thanks a lot,

    María Prelchi

  11. Thank you María, I hope that one day I might heard a conversation and understand it, but I think that all of you have an advantage over me.


  12. Well, I can only subscribe to all the wishes that people already sent you Cristina. I think it is a matter of understanding the different phases we go through, and therefore it is very important not to give up and to keep on trying. Little by little, things change and we often realize at once how much they improved.

    I shared many times with my partner that the more I am involved in English Literature, the more I have the feeling not to be able to speak English properly. Many times I have the impression that things are just getting worse. Nonetheless, I think that this is also due to the fact that we pay much more attention to what we say, hear, understand or not, than before.

    I arrived to Spain two years ago with a very limited level of Spanish. It has been hard to go throughout a period where I felt lost many times (although I had a lot of support from the people around me), to stand official moments, encounters, meetings, dinners full of Spanish speaking people but without understanding half of what they said, without getting the jokes, the double-meanings etc. Little by little things improved and I am happy I was quite stubborn (for once!). And I am happy people did not changed their way of talking, their accent, etc. Of course I still do a lot of mistakes, of course I have a very strong French accent, and I get mad when I have an "animated" discussion with someone and I don't manage to find the right words. But well, Rome wasn't built in a day...

    To me as to many of us (it seems), natives' accents aren't always easy to understand (obviously there is such a diversity that it is hard to generalize) but I still believe that it is important to "teach" them, to listen to them and to try to understand them. For me, this is part of the linguistic diversity, of the richness of a language, a part of the culture or better said, of cultural expression. I believe that we shouldn't forget that aspect and fall into the trap of developing a uniform way to learn (and therefore teach) languages. This would neither be "real" nor representative. I work quite a lot at European level and obviously we have this common "Euro-English" way of talking which makes things much easier than a debate about Shakespeare with a Welsh person (which is what happened to me last week). But I also believe in the added value of having him talking to me the way he did. On top of the richness this represents for me, it was simply beautiful. And yes Cristina, I had to ask him to repeat what he said many, many times ;-)


  13. Oups, sorry for the length of my previous comment. I just realise this while seeing it posted; it wasn't meant to be so long! It seems I had a lot to comment and/or share... I'll try to refrain myself a bit!

  14. Personally, I don't think there's a unique way to pronounce any language. Of course you should try to do your best when studying phonetics, but I think the aim of learning a language should be to understand it and being understood.

    In a language like English, which is spoken with so many accents, (Australian, Canadian)for what has been more important when using it has been to be open to any pronunciation.

    Abd regarding the text that aks if we think is easier in our own accent, I definitely thing it is much easier, however it would be a good idea to have many accents throughout the course, in that way we would get used to understand no matter the mother tongue of the speaker.

    I love variety and diversity!!

  15. Gisele and Warenka thank you for sharing your very own experinces.
    That's the way it is, learning a language is an everyday task, even for natives:
    could you tell me here and now the uses of Condicionales in Spanish? Or the meaning of casquería, estulticia or encurtidos, all of them Spanish words? (Depending on where your live some will know and some won't!) :-)

  16. Thanks a lot Gisele,

    For the moment, I go on trying improve my listening and spoken english and from here I am grateful to María Jordano because surfing the Net (I am a bit nosy)I found the María's page for her tourism studens. There was a post where she encouraged her students to improve their oral skills in an autonomous way though this web-page; http://www.language-exchanges.org, the fact is that I registered and so far I have spoken with a girl from Chicago, a boy from Leed (United Kindom), a girl from Eugene (Oregón) and a middle-aged from Tampa (Florida). This night I am going to speak with a student of Illinois and I am very happy. All of this people have a different accent. So far the accent I understand better is the accent of Florida maybe because this person spoke very clear and slow. I intend to go on with this and I recognize that my husband is helping me a lot because when I have an opportunity of write in the chat or speak with somebody he always take the charge of the children.

  17. Wow! This is great Cristina! You'll see, no doubt that this is going to be very helpful ;-)

    And besides this, still talking about accents (or about ways to imitate the main "characteristics" of languages), we may wish to have a look to:

    No offense intended, obviously!

    Enjoy and as they would say in the West Midlands: tata a bit!

  18. I agree with Warenka that it could be interesting to have the opportunity to listen to different accents during the course.

    In almost every English course, all listening exercises are spoken/read by native English speakers, mainly American and British. Of course, I understand that this intends that students get familiar with the "correct" pronunciation.

    However, in day-to-day life, we have to face the challenge of getting communicated in English with people with "non-standard" accents. I still remember the first time I came across a strong Welsh accent, not to mention the struggles to understand many Chinese or Japanese people when they are supposedly speaking in English.

    So... What do you think? Should we take the risk?

    Silvia Sánchez Rodríguez

  19. First at all:

    Imagine that you are a foreign student of spanish...

    Imagine that you have to chose your language school...

    What country had you decided to study? South America, Spain...

    And if you had choosen Spain,would you like to speak with andalucian or castellians accents for example?

    I mean, we expect to get a good level of any accent of english, however I am sure that the most of us have a special accent.

    In my case, i love british accent and more exactly London speaking. Of course i wish to understand and know any accents.


  20. Well, I can imagine what you're saying quite well ;-) Of course it is important to be able to learn in a "neutral" way, as far as this is possible considering that there are very few regions in a given country where there is hardly any accent... Even if we talk about London, for instance.

    But I tend to agree with Warenka and Silvia: we need to get used to listen to different accents simply because this is - according to me- better mirroring what the reality is. A French friend of mine learned Spanish in Granada, and obviously he doesn't speak like me, who learned it in Madrid and then in Galicia. We have a different accent although we are both francophone... That doesn't mean that his Spanish is better or worse than mine, not at all. And this is valid whichever language we are talking about... don't you think so?

  21. Ruth Cabezudo3/13/10, 1:20 AM


    First of all, I want to thank you all for the links you have provided in this post as well as in the communication problems one. I have had a great time with them, I couldn't stop laughing!

    I think it could be easier to learn English if it's spoken in your own accent, but it's not the best way: as you mentioned before, there are so many different English accents that we who have learnt English in only an accent wouldn't understand someone who speaks another quite different.

    In my case, I studied British English while I was in school and had some courses later, one with an American teacher, one in England, etc. I had a hard time when I had to buy my ticket to get from the airport to Cambridge, but after some days I got used in some way to the accent.

    I still have very much to learn and practise, in this case I have to admit it's really hard for me: I have realised I can't get a word from someone from Scotland, I could have many difficulties to understand Irish people, some accents from Australia and the US. While watching some of the videos, I found this one. I think it is impressive -it's quite stereotyped, but interesting. In case you haven't seen it, here you have: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UgpfSp2t6k&NR=1&feature=fvwp

    In my opinion, in school they taught me a great deal of grammar and spelling, some vocabulary, but I seldom practised listening and speaking. I think it was a great mistake, but we were very large groups of students -forty students on average- and it can't be easy to teach so many people.
    Thank goodness I was able to take some courses later, but unfortunately, due to my shifts at work and being on duty once every three weeks, I can't attend any courses right now.

    I'll try to practise recording myself, listening to the radio, watching videos... and I'll have a look at the link Cristina provided. I haven't practised English for a long time and when you notice how fluent you were and how hard it gets to talk or write about something, you feel a bit disappointed.



  22. Good comments and even better contributions: Amy's 21 accents were surprising, Ruth, and Gisele´s links to youtube very funny as well.
    Thanks Cristina, Silvia, Luis for your experiences.
    Now let's go to the point: we developed more writing-reading-translating-grammar,etc when we were at school but what do we do nowadays to improve our oral skills? Films, tv, music, radio? What else? Some of you have joined "Learn English while watching videos" - Is Internet helpful with elements like youtube and similar stuff? Skype?

  23. Mª. Covadonga González Bernardo3/18/10, 1:56 PM

    Oh, this is such an interesting topic!I can understand that adults learning a foreign language will understand it better when it is pronounced with their own accent. But, somehow, it seems not the right thing to do, doesn't it? Shouldn't you try to speak with a native's accent (whether it is Midland, Scottish, American...?).
    Now for a funny anechdote:
    When I studied in France, my French classmates knew that I spoke English and once in a while they spoke English to me. But in order to be understood they had to tell me they were speaking in English: they spoke with such a strong French accent that I didn't realise that they had started speaking in another language. I thought they were speaking in French and that somehow I just couldn't understand what they were saying. My fault, though, I always need a while to get used to a new accent when listening to a foreign language.

  24. Very funny comment, Covadonga. It is soooo good that you all leave comments on this topic! In this way other students will realize it is "not only me! there are others like me". And above all Spanish students are really shy when the time comes to practice their languages. Bear this in mind: grammar and all that stuff is very important but languages are COMMUNICATION AND PRACTICE so forget about feeling bad regarding your "oral skills", just talk, talk, talk. Remember that"Practice makes perfect"!