Best place to learn english.
June 8, 2012 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I have spoken english fluently since I was a child but I know many people that would like to learn or are trying to learn how to speak english. In my opinion the best method is full on immersion in an english speaking country. What would be the best country or place for this to happen?

I ask this because there are so many english speaking countries that have a high immigrant population and/or strong regional accents and so the exposure to a "good" quality of english is not as high as it could be....any suggestions for countries, cities with a good quality of daily english exposure?
posted by mikeanegus to Education (17 answers total)
Everywhere has an accent, so it depends on what accent you want.

Midwestern college town USA is my first thought: the accent is generally not strongly identifiable, the cost of living is decent, and there are generally activities/places to go to get interaction with English speakers. Yes, it is Midwestern, but people generally can't place me or my peers. (There are very few 'tells' and you almost have to be trained to listen for them.)

Immigrants are not going to be a particular problem unless you're afraid the person will hang out too much with people from their own country and not get as much practice.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2012

I feel like the beauty of immersion is that it doesn't really matter where you go. You're immersed. My students that had Australian teachers, for example, complained that they had difficulty understanding the Aussie teacher since their accent stood out from the other teachers at my institute. I have zero doubts that if my students went to Australia that it would cease to be an issue though.
On the other hand, from my own experience trying to learn a language, it's much easier in a place with less slang and a slower rate of speaking. I'd say Midwestern US or smaller cities in the UK would meet this.
On the other-other-hand, learning Spanish in Cusco left me completely unprepared for other places. I was so used to hearing things slowly that once I started hanging out with Spanish speakers with a faster rate of speaking, I had a lot of difficulty understanding them. I feel like I might have learned just as well someplace where they spoke a bit faster, and would have been more prepared for a more standard rate of speech.
posted by piedmont at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2012

There is no such thing as a place where the majority of people speak unaccented, "good quality" English. Everyone from the UK or Australia has an accent as far as I'm concerned (I'm American) and I must sound like I have some kind of American accent, even though I was raised in California, so not alot of slang/regionalism.

The exposure to a variety of accents in a major metro area like Los Angeles, New York or London would be good. The majority of highly educated people in areas like that will speak in minimally accented English with proper grammar.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2012

All English-speaking countries have immigrant populations and strong regional accents. There is no enclave of "pure" English anywhere in the world.

That's the beauty of English, in my opinion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

The best place would be one they can get into and can afford to stay in for a while, and ideally qualify to work while they are there (second best would be going to school).
posted by jacalata at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

So my thought is that the best course of action for someone wanting to speak high-status English* is to move to a city or town best known for its prestigious universities (Cambridge, Mass; Palo Alto, California; Cambridge, England; Oxford, England; Toronto, Canada; I don't know what the Australian and New Zealand equivalents are) and take daily classes at an English learners' school there--which will draw a large proportion of its staff from graduate students and recent graduates--then hang out at pubs and bars and participate in social activities (film societies or whatever) that are largely populated by students. That would probably be the best way to maximize the number of daily conversational encounters with native English speakers who are communicating in high-status English.

(Which is not the same as "pure" English, or "un-accented English.")
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:21 AM on June 8, 2012

The above caveats about regional accents and "proper" English always apply, and any student would have to be aware that they're being exposed to a certain variety which is more or less regarded as standard.

That said, the likely best place in England would be anywhere from Oxfordshire to Cambridgeshire, including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Hertfordshire. Outside of the "big" cities of England, but in an area that doesn't have a particularly strong accent (from an English point of view). However, they are relatively expensive, so there's that.
posted by Jehan at 10:23 AM on June 8, 2012

The differences in quality of immersion within English-speaking countries seem like they'd be very minor compared to differences in cost and hassle of traveling to one country versus another. That is, if I were French, I'd go to England, and if I were Indonesian, I'd go to Australia. I'd pick cities based on where I wanted to live and which were easiest to get to.

Biggest caveat seems to be that places with you can easily revert to your native tongue should be avoided (i.e. SW US if you're from Mexico).
posted by deadweightloss at 10:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

there are so many english speaking countries that have a high immigrant population

But I don't think there are many that have such a high density of immigrants that the immersion experience would be diminished. Sure there are neighborhoods in most big American cities where you would be more likely to hear Mandarin or Spanish or Korean or Brazilian Portuguese than English (though probably not all four in any one city...), but go two blocks over and you are back in 100% English mode.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:49 AM on June 8, 2012

there are so many english speaking countries that have a high immigrant population and/or strong regional accents and so the exposure to a "good" quality of english is not as high as it could be

It doesn't really work this way.

For one thing, there is no one regional accent that is better or worse for language learning, in an absolute sense. You can learn English in the Bronx or Perth as well as you can learn it in London. In countries that have a lot of immigrants, regional accents are the result of the patterns of immigration to that area. And as long as you can talk to the people in the city where you've moved, you're fine.

I mean, if you're a journalist or an actor or something, you might want to make sure you're studying the variety of English that will help you most in your career. But that's something you can probably do later, after you have basic proficiency in the language. There are tutors and consultants whose sole job is "accent eradication".

TLDR Short answer: if you're an international actor or broadcast journalist, you probably want to study BBC-style British English. But maybe not, depending on your career trajectory and the market you're trying to find work in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:57 AM on June 8, 2012

Do you want accent "elimination" or do you want to improve your English communication skills? Different goals, in my opinion. For the former, you can simply seek out the services of a language coach where you live or online, or watch lots of TV or movies (I'm serious. I know people with American accents who've never visited the country!). If you want to improve not just your speech but your reading and writing skills as well, then yes, you should try to live/work/study in an Anglophone country. Depending on where you're interested in going, there will be good, accredited English language schools in major cities like London, Melbourne, Auckland, Boston etc.

I grew up speaking English at home, but went to the US and Australia for college and grad school respectively. My accent is a bit of a mashup from what I've been told--Americans think I have a British accent while the Brits and Australians think I sound American. I modify my accent depending on who I talk to enough to make myself understood, but in general, I kind of refuse to "eliminate" my accent entirely. As a student in the US and Australia, I learned to express in speech and writing more complicated ideas and defend my opinions; this I found invaluable and far more useful.

I've met people from Asia and Europe with distinctive accents, but who are are more articulate and grammatically correct in speech than many so-called native speakers of English. In a way, "eliminating" your non-native English accent is pretty easy and does not require full cultural immersion. But if your goal is to communicate as well as an eloquent native speaker of English, then yes, you need to be in a place where you have to read, write, think and speak in English all the time.
posted by peripathetic at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2012

I think the "best" place would be wherever is closest and cheapest to fly to for the end user.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2012

I think I understand what you're asking. It may be true that there is no such thing as "pure" English, since every native English speaker thinks their own accent is neutral (though it could be argued that the English in England is the purest), but if your goal is to speak English in an accent that is most easily understood wherever you are in the world, then yes there certainly are regions with accents that would be better for you to immerse yourself in. I would definitely not suggest going to Newfoundland, for example.

Due to the wide reach of American television and movies around the world, I think most parts of the United States and Canada would be a good bet. This wiki article on North American English regional phonology gives a detailed description of any distinctly accented regions you might want to avoid. Europeans might understand British English just as well or better, because of their proximity to the UK.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:08 PM on June 8, 2012

I see what you mean, but I think that if you're wanting to be immersed in English, the best way is to look for a cultural fit. The US, Canada, Australia, the UK are all (as you know) so different culturally and even within the borders of those countries. Take a look at those places, and think about where you would feel comfortable.

If you feel comfortable and feel like you belong, you will have a higher exposure to English because you'll be speaking more because you'll want to communicate and connect with the people around you. That's the best way to get 'exposure': actually speaking!
posted by Tevin at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

if your goal is to speak English in an accent that is most easily understood wherever you are in the world, then yes there certainly are regions with accents that would be better for you to immerse yourself in. I would definitely not suggest going to Newfoundland, for example.

This is what I was going to say. Every language is liable to have an accent or dialect that everyone else either can't understand easily or thinks is plain old weird. Areas where that is the case are probably not optimal destinations for language learning. Other than that, anywhere would do, pretty much, but there's obviously an advantage to learning the English that you're likely to encounter or use. Indian English can seem kind of idiosyncratic in places to other English speakers, so, if you weren't planning on working in South Asia, India maybe wouldn't be you first choice (I imagine it's also not the best place for immersion). But if you anticipated dealing with loads of, say, Australians, then Australia ought to rank highly as a destination. (And, making up my example entirely, if Australians think South Africans 'talk really funny' then maybe you put South Africa at the bottom of your list. Yes, it makes total sense that I keep picking countries with multiple languages as examples.)
posted by hoyland at 2:08 PM on June 8, 2012

I think a combination of classes and total immersion in a family is ideal, and going by how weak the Euro is at the moment I'm going to suggest anywhere on the East or South coast of Ireland.
Everywhere has an accent but in Ireland talking to stangers is not just a good thing, it's practically mandatory!

I travelled widely in the English language business in a previous job and I genuinely believe you could not do better! (Caveat, I am Irish, and I have never had any difficulty being understood anywhere in the world)

Accents are stronger in the North and in rural areas, but that's the case in most English speaking places in the western hemisphere.
posted by Wilder at 10:06 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something I've noticed with immersion programs is that students can be really stunted if they are surrounded by people that speak their native language - students are more comfortable with each other and only speak their own language, or speak English in odd ways because they can't see the mistakes that are common to their language. For that reason, I'd recommend immersion programs in areas where there isn't a significant population of people that speak your native language or closely related ones.
posted by fermezporte at 10:07 AM on June 9, 2012

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