Finding the Native Accent

6 practicing my german with frankPerhaps you’re like many Americans who get so bummed out when they spend a lot of time learning a second language, and then they go abroad, excited to use their new language, and foreigners look at them perplexed. In all likelihood, the people you’re talking to simply can’t follow your rather inaccurate accent. Maybe this is confusing because you did so well in your French/Spanish/German high school and/or college courses.

Aha! Generally, few primary and secondary schools hire native speakers. So, the German that you may have learned from your Alabama- or Massachusetts-born-and-bred German teacher is aurally incomprehensible to Germans.

Accents can also vary greatly within a country, which is why they are often standardized in media outlets. The national news broadcast in the United States, for example, is standardized to a neutral accent, referred to as General American <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_American>. In England, it’s called Received Pronunciation or the Queen’s English <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation>, and it’s what you hear on the BBC. In Germany, this neutral pronunciation is called Standard German, Hochdeutsch, or High German. Many countries, like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland not only have different accents from country to country but different dialects as well.

One of the most valuable things about TOTALe is that it offers the voices of native speakers only. So, when I’m going through my lessons, I only hear people who are native German speakers. When I log on to TOTALe for my live coaching, I get a native German speaker, and when the magic voice-recognition software asks me to pronounce German words and phrases into my headset, it is mapping my voice to a model of native speakers’ pronunciation. The speech-recognition engine is checking to see whether I’m speaking accurate German or if I’m getting lazy.

So, if and when Germans look at you perplexed or correct your pronunciation, they’re not trying to be rude or insult your speaking abilities, they’re trying to be helpful—learn from them. Most Germans really appreciate foreigners, especially Americans who are learning their native language.

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