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I've watched so much American, Canadian, British and Australian shows/videos/sitcoms/movies/lessons that I can now do most of those different accents. Of course, I will not be as good as the native speakers, but if I go to say Australia, or Canada, which accent should I use there, how will people accept it?

For example, if I try mimicking Australian accent, it will probably be good enough, but not as good as my American accent so what would be the proper way to go about this?

Or I go to Canada and I pronounce "about" and "out" in the distinctive way they do, even though Im not Canadian, so I dont have to do it?

Will I fit better in Australia as the foreigner that speaks Australian English a bit off (if thats an expression) or the foreigner that speaks American English (even though not American in the first place)?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by CoolHandLouis, oerkelens, abby hairboat, Hellion, Siddhartha Feb 21 at 4:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I am Canadian, and have never said "out" or "about" in that "distinctive" way! The choice is yours, of course. As you say, your accent will not be as good as the native speakers', so you could end up sounding comical or even as if you are mocking them. If your accent is perfect, but not your grammar, then you could sound like an uneducated local. In any case, an accent can be a good conversation starter, and, if your general pronunciation is good, should not impede understanding. As I have developed a mixed accent, I sometimes modify a certain word to the local accent to be understood. –  nxx Feb 16 at 14:55
I always find it a bit odd, to be honest, when I hear a German person, for example, speak English in a perfect American/British/whatever accent, simply because it confounds my expectations and makes me wonder if they're really German! Ultimately, I'd say go with the "accent" that feels natural for you, even if it means mixing Australian/American/Canadian pronuncations, rather than trying to force anything. –  nxx Feb 16 at 14:57
oh yeah thats my other problem.. I mix those so much... I love English language and all the main accents and Im now mixing them all the time –  J. K. Feb 16 at 15:21
Use the native accent most of the time. Then when you chance meet someone out in public like shopping, use your other accent. They'll be like, "oh I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else!". Then say, "oh that's my twin brother/sister!" Then you can have all kinds of fun, like "tell my brother to pay me back the $10 he borrowed from me!" Then when you meet them again use your native-accent and have more fun. You can say, "huh? I don't have a twin..." –  CoolHandLouis Feb 16 at 15:33
J. Kowalski and nxx, to me, the distinctive Canadian pronunciation seems more like the letter o in the words boat and low. That makes the Canadian pronunciation of out and about sound like oat and aboat, to me. –  Tristan Feb 18 at 17:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I have had the same question myself in French. There are a range of opinions on this. My personal preference is for the hyper-local accent always, i.e., try to imitate the people who are around you, whatever they may speak. The fact is, though, that this will get you into trouble sometimes.

I think the safest bet (although it is not what I would always do myself) is: whatever country you go to, adopt the most standard pronunciation of that country. Certainly in the US it will make you more understandable if you pronounce word-final r, for instance. That's true even if you land in one of the (diminishing) areas of the country where it's not pronounced, because everyone is used to hearing the standard dialect in broadcast media.

It is interesting, because there are a lot of folk theories about linguistics and dialect. In the US, for instance, the general folk theory is that standard American (like you hear in most movies, as you would hear in, say, the rich suburban areas of most northern cities) is "English without an accent." Interestingly, most people who speak "with an accent" i.e. not with the standard accent (e.g. especially the south, also the rural midwest), talk about the language in this way too, even though it is linguistically nonsense.

In particular, I imagine that if you adopt a regional accent in America, some folks would think you were making fun of them for trying to speak "with an accent" or that you were pretentious, trying to be something you were not (which is a little silly given that anyone learning a foreign language is trying to pronounce it as well as possible). This is a very unfortunate attitude, but you should at least be aware that it exists before trying to pick up a regional accent.

I'd specifically caution against trying to imitate African-American Vernacular English, because there is a lot of nasty and ignorant stigma surrounding that dialect, and people may mistake you for someone who is racist and making fun of the dialect (also, because the dialect is so stigmatized, many of its native speakers don't use it for official business, so it would seem very out of place for a foreigner to attempt that).

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Thanks! Actually it might be best if you unaccept this -- I think we need to get input from other users on this site, especially non-Americans. –  hunter Feb 16 at 16:19
true :) I will unaccept for now –  J. K. Feb 16 at 18:06

Speak in your natural accent. What you think is a good English/American/Australian accent probably has quite strong overtones of your native language anyway, and you run the risk of sounding like you're mocking people. By all means adopt local dialect words but speaking with a foreign accent is absolutely not a problem.

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I dont have a natural accent, so Id rather pick the one that is the most rational to use :) They are kinda all equal to me –  J. K. Feb 16 at 23:46
@J.Kowalski What country are you from? You could just settle on speaking English with a slight [your country] accent. This has the benefit of people not thinking you're mocking their accent, while giving people a hint where you're from..unless you'd rather they not know at first blush that you are foreign. –  Tim S. Feb 17 at 0:23
@J.Kowalski Yeah, everyone thinks they don't have an accent. Trust me: you do. –  David Richerby Feb 17 at 1:00

Pronunciation is the last thing you should be worrying about: pick one dialect and let your use of that constitute the identity you project. Lexicon (the words) is more important; grammaticality is even more important (save yourself effort and concentrate on mastering the formal register); and the most important thing of all is the content of your speech: be aware of what topics are sensitive or tabu, and what opinions will excite dismay, ridicule, or hostility.

Act III Shaw's Pygmalion, a play about a young woman seeking to better herself by mastering the essentially 'foreign' dialect of a higher class, illustrates very amusingly the difference between 'proper' pronunciation and 'proper' lexicon, grammar, and content.

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I disagree... if you pronounce the words exactly correct but in a dialect the listener is not familiar with, you will not be understood, and the purpose of speaking is obviously to be understood. @hunter makes some good points about cultural reasons to perhaps not adopt the most local dialect possible, but absent those concerns your greatest chance of being understood is too speak as similarly to the listener as possible –  JoelFan Feb 17 at 1:51
@JoelFan Only speakers from very isolated communities will have any difficulty with the major standard dialects: the phonetic differences between General American, Received Pronunciation, and General Australian are greatly exaggerated in popular lore and do not significantly impede mutual intelligibility. Now if OP's 'American' is Ocracoke or his 'British' Doric, he will have a hard time being understood anywhere; but that seems unlikely. –  StoneyB Feb 17 at 2:35
@StoneyB I think you underestimate that. As a British person I always find it amusing when Americans don't understand my plain English accent when I can understand them perfectly. It is all about familiarity. –  JamesRyan Feb 17 at 11:14

Pick a high-brow British accent and stick with it, when in America. To few it will sound snobby for the most part Americans for some reason defer and respect it.

As long as it's not overdone to the point that you can't be understood I'd think it will serve you well.

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