The difference between ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’.

Jan 13, 2019 | Blog

Georgie Taylor

Speech Pathologist

I am often asked about ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’. The dictionary definition of the word ‘accent’ is – a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class.

Sorry – before we go any further I just can’t help talking about the pronunciation of ‘accent’ ; )
Check you are making both the /k/ and /s/ in the /ks/ cluster (otherwise it will sound like ‘ascent’) and that the syllable stress (emphasis) is all on the 1st syllable. It is written like this in the IPA – /ˈak.sənt/. Listen and practise here.

So, the word ‘accent’ refers to the way a person pronounces a language.

Everyone in the world has an accent in whatever language they speak.

There are three things that an accent can tell us about. A person may have ‘a regional accent’ which may identify the location of where the speaker grew up. They may have a ‘social accent’ which may identify the socio-economic status of the person or they may have a ‘foreign accent’ or ‘non-native accent’ which gives us clues about the first language of the person when they are speaking a 2nd language.

‘Regional accent’ is the accent we have when we speak our first language. For example, by listening to a native English speakers accent we can tell if they are from the UK, the US, Canada or Australia or other English speaking country. We know this because they will have a British accent, American accent or Australian accent.

‘Foreign accent’ or ‘non-native accent’ is the accent we have when we speak our 2nd language.  For example, when I speak Mandarin I speak it with an ‘English accent’ because the way I make the sounds and tones in Mandarin is affected by my ‘English mouth’! By ‘English mouth’ I mean that for the first 20 years of my life my mouth muscles were mostly producing English sounds and tones.

Some accents sound nicer to our ear than others. But this is a matter of personal taste. For instance English speakers often love listening to French people speaking English – they like the ‘French accent’. Personally, my favourite accent in English is a Spanish accent.

Practise opening your mouth!

Photograph by Bigstockphoto

Here’s my favourite quote from Bill Gates. Being the richest man in the world, I’m guessing he knows a thing or two.

I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.

‘Pronunciation’ is the way we pronounce sounds. So the way we move our mouth to make sounds.

So what’s the difference between ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation?’ The way we pronounce words gives us an accent.

Accents are a wonderful part of life. They add to a person’s cultural identity and heritage. They add to the fabric of life in so many ways.

If someone has a very strong accent, it can mean that people find them difficult to understand. They might find that they have to repeat themselves or they get the feeling people haven’t understood everything they have said easily. This can negatively impact on their work performance and communication with others. In that case, they may want a more neutral accent or to reduce their accent so others can understand them easily.

Many people want to either neautralise their accent or even to perfect their spoken English as much as possible. Their goal is to improve their English accent as much as they can to sound as more like a native English speaker.

So now that you know about the difference between ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’ you can think about your accents – in your first language and your 2nd languages. What clues do they give other people about you?

Whether your goal is to reduce your accent to be clearer or to sound more like a native speaker, a Star Pronunciation course will help you achieve it.

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