Foreign accents and national EFL dialects
(with links to audio file databases)
The Speech accent archive of George Mason University
The Speech accent archive of George Mason University is a very impressive site that offers numerous examples of 'national EFL dialects' from around the world in the form of online audio recordings and transcriptions in IPA:
go to the main index and click on 'Taiwanese' and 'Mandarin' to link to their
examples of Taiwan and mainland Chinese-accented English; there are also Cantonese
and Taishan (where is this dialect spoken?) accents of English. The Taiwan examples
should be very familiar to you, and should exhibit the characteristics discussed
in the previous pages. Do they? Do you notice any different or additional ones?
How about the examples from various parts of mainland China and Hong Kong? What
are the similarities to Taiwan English, and the differences?
You might want to compare what you heard with examples of Taiwan English from this animated English grammar site:
Or listen to this 3/01/05 MPR interview with Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who speaks English fluently and articulately. What similarities to and differences from Taiwan English do you note?
Direct audio link
Next try another language, like Spanish, Czech, Basque, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese. Or you may want to listen to English accents typical of speakers of some of the less familiar languages, like Agny, Dari, Ebira, Frisian, Georgian, Kirghiz, and Sarua. Some language names you may remember from our textbooks, e.g. Gujarati, Malayalam, Quechua, Twi, and Zulu. Look up the ones you don't recognize in Ethnologue to learn a little about the language and where it is spoken. Here are some languages included in this database that you should a little learn about especially if you are from East Asia: Uyghur, Tibetan, Mongolian, Tagalog, Indonesian, and Khmer. But don't try to do too much at once or you will be overwhelmed, and everything may start to mush together into an undifferentiated blur.
As a practical exercise, choose just one of the types of accented English on this site, then try to describe its phonetic characteristics. Is the speaker trying to speak with an American, or British, or other standard English accent? Which one? Which sounds are commonly substituted for which sounds? Can you generalize what you find into phonological rules, as we did for Taiwan English? Try to place the speaker's vowels in a vowel space. What differences of voicing, devoicing, or aspiration, if any, do you notice in the sample, compared to standard English? Is the speaker's native language a tone language, and if so, how is this reflected in his or her English accent, if at all? Does the speaker stress the correct syllables? Does the speaker follow English rules of intonation? The site offers help on the main characteristics of some of the examples, but won't cover all of the patterns to be observed; compare the 'help' files with your own findings. When you are ready, you may want to try another language; or if you're suffering brain overload, you can come back and continue another time.
The International Dialects of English Archive
Here is another excellent site, produced by dialect coach Paul Meier of the University Of Kansas, that is quite similar to the George Mason University speech accent archive. You can use it to compare your results from the first site, if it happens to have an audio sample of the accent you chose, or you can try out a new variety of accented English:
This site uses frames; look at the top of the page for the menu and click on the region you are interested in. You will notice that this site includes a variety of different accents of native English speakers as well as non-natives. Take some time to explore the site, including its many useful links. This site is mainly for actors learning to imitate an accent for a stage or film performance, but it is a treasure-trove of resources for anyone interested in phonetics and linguistics.
EnglishContrasted, English around the World, New York City accents
Here is a site called EnglishContrasted with another fine collection of audio samples of English as it is spoken around the world:
And here is a link to the English around the World page of the E.L. Easton English online site; you may find other pages on this site that are of interest as well:
Here is an interesting site from amNewYork with authentic samples of New York City accents:
Exercises like these can help sharpen your perception of the sounds of language. Hearing something done 'wrong' or just differently can help you better grasp what is involved in getting it right in a particular dialect. After all, we often don't even notice the existence of a thing unless something is wrong or unusual about it! This kind of practice should be especially useful to future (and current) teachers of English as a foreign language.
One of the many factors that identify an accent as foreign is the rate of speech or reading. Ever wonder how fast you read English? Go on to the next page, and you can find out!
Next: How fast do you read English? (with online WPM tests and timer)
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