Tajiks say, "Are you Iranian?". Iranians say, "Are you Tajik?"
August 7, 2010 7:10 AM   Subscribe

How can I change my accent in a second language?

I just spent two (amazing) months in a country which speaks a regional dialect of my target language. While the classes I took were focused on the standard dialect of the language (Iranian Persian), I lived with a local host family and thus was immersed in the colloquial regional language.

Now I'm finding that I'm speaking a mishmash of the two dialects - mostly standard Persian, but with local vocabulary and a bit of a Tajik 'twang'. Basically, the way I talk now doesn't fit in with the dialect of either area.

What strategies can I use to re-standardize my language? I do plan on hanging out with speakers of the standard language, but it won't be in nearly as much volume as I've been speaking the language with people every day for the past two months. What can I do to get the most out of my conversations? If anyone's been in a similar situation (Spain/Mexico, France/Quebec, etc etc), I'm interested in hearing what you did to alter your accent.

And I have nothing against regional dialects - I really like the Tajik language, which is one of the reasons I've absorbed the local speech so well - but what I want to do with the language requires proficiency in the standard, literary form.
posted by Gordafarin to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Media consumption - music, TV.

I was the same with 2 dialects of Armenian. Pop music got me to more Yerevan and less Tehran.
posted by k8t at 7:35 AM on August 7, 2010

Best answer: Heh. I spent a year in Tajikistan; now that I'm back in Canada, I have a few Iranian co-workers who are always making fun of my accent and vocabulary (apparently "man bisyor nagz"/"I'm fine" is absolutely hilarious). The only thing I can recommend, short of language re-immersion, is to listen to a lot of Persian movies. Thankfully, Iran has a very rich cinema heritage, so it should be fairly easy to pick up 10 or 20 or however many float your boat. Salomat boshed.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:38 AM on August 7, 2010

For me, a meta-awareness of the variations (and of course remembering to listen for and apply them!) helps a lot. I got told right quick in Peru that the pronunciation quirks I'd picked up from my Valencian Spanish teacher years ago are not done in Latin America. So I then spent time listening to the way people around me spoke and trying to acquire a more Peruvian way of speaking. I suppose that, in the absence of native speakers of the dialect you want, media is the way to go.
posted by Sara C. at 8:13 AM on August 7, 2010

I learned Japanese in a rural part of the country, so I had (and, to a certain extent, still have) the same challenge.

To correct my pronunciation, I taped (this is back in the days of VCRs) news programs and television shows, and practiced "shadow talking", and repeated whatever was said on tv.

For a more strategic approach, practice with the same content multiple times until you get it right, rather than trying new content every session.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on August 7, 2010

Exposure to lots of different accents, together with exposure to the newscaster version, helped me develop a neutral accent instead of a regional one. Training your ear to recognize the regionalisms also helps you avoid them in your own speech. Finding actual native speakers to mix complements the media part really well.
posted by ambrosia at 9:17 AM on August 7, 2010

IAALinguist, and I can tell you that there are a lot of studies that show that what most people have been saying in this thread is backed up by solid empirical research. In other words, while acquiring a new language, your ability to perceive phonemes and patterns of phonemes is always greater than your ability to produce them.* So the best way to go about being comfortable with varying dialects is to really know them well. Improving your ability to recognize the (possibly subtle) variations that define the dialect you wish to use will only increase your ability to produce these variations.

If you're willing to do some research, you might find it useful to figure out what the rules are for the relevant dialects. This is not the same at all as knowing how to speak the dialect, but rather knowing the rules for patterning the sequences of phonemes. I'll give you an example in English to illustrate. We never think about the variation between the 2-3 sounds that are used to form the standard plural in English. We can use either -s or -z depending on the final sound of the word we're attaching the plural morpheme to (I'm ignoring the third (-Iz) for the sake of simplicity). "Cat" gets the -s but "dog" gets the -z. How do we know which one to use? Simple -- if the final sound of the base word is voiced, it gets -z, otherwise it gets -s. In order to tell if a sound is voiced, put your fingertips on your throat and say the "t" sound, 'tuh, tuh'; you feel nothing. Say the "g" sound 'guh, guh'; you feel a vibration. So one simple rule, which most native speakers of English are ignorant of, determines how words get pluralized in English. If you want to do a bit of linguistics and research the relevant rules, you might find it easier to correctly internalize the sound patterns. These rules also exist for syntax (word ordering).

*this is also true for the first language you acquire -- children just starting to speak can always understand more than they can say
posted by tractorfeed at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree with tractorfeed - it can be very helpful if you can get your hand on a linguist's description of the pronunciation rules for a language. Not just the pronunciation guide in a "Learn to Speak X" book, because those are crap: they just tell you how to approximate a sound with your American (or whatever) accent, so, how to speak Language X with your accent. It's really easy to get used to pronouncing something one way and to not even perceive how native speakers really pronounce it. Or to be able to perceive a subtle difference but not know how to reproduce it. Although lots of active listening may help you fix your accent eventually, sometimes it can be much quicker and more effective to just look up the rules of the accent if it's possible.
posted by mandanza at 11:57 AM on August 7, 2010

Tape record your own voice speaking the language and play it back and listen to your accent, then repeat, trying to change the parts where you're saying it with the accent you don't want.. Also it might just require a lot of hard work at learning the standard language. In my experience it takes a long time and practice to be able to hear & separate out the regionalisms and slang and such, from any language. Also, listen to newscasts in the standard language, a lot! That helps.
posted by citron at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2010

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