September 14, 2012

Lost in Pronunciation

Paris Signs

Imagine you were born in France and as an adult you move to, let's say Alabama, where you learn to speak English.

Obviously you already have an accent when you speak English, because you are French after all. However, because you're living in Alabama, you pick up bit of a southern twang in your speech without even realizing it.

Nine years later you move to, let's say Oregon, where the locals hear your French-accented-English-with-a-southern-twang and start correcting your pronunciation.

Of almost every other word you say.

Words that you thought you had been pronouncing correctly all along because nobody in the south ever corrected you.

And it isn't that your pronunciation is wrong, so to speak.
But they think it's wrong because they have a different accent from the accent that you've picked up over the last decade.

Welcome to my life.

I think I should add that as annoying as it is sometimes, I do appreciate my coworkers and friends taking an interest in my learning process. I also have the opportunity to correct their English from time to time, which I happily do!

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Bake said...

Haha! We have the same trouble! The accent down here is very different to what we are used to - I wonder how our baby will sound when he begins to speak...

Stephanie // ArtfullyAdored said...

How frustrating! I wonder how the Canadians would deal with my Parisian/France accent. I met une quebecoise in Portugal who found it "cute" but aside from that... I suspect I would be corrected time and again. I hope your French accent rounds out a bit soon and everyone leaves you alone, lets you speak they way you speak!

Ann Mah said...

Ha ha! My first French teacher was from Benin (his name was Bienvenu!) and he told our class that we should roll our "r"s -- like rrrrrrouge. Needless to say, once I got to France, my professors there put a stop to that pretty quickly.

Katherine said...

I'm afraid as I'm relearning French now that we're here ( or unlearning my badly-taught high school French ) I have all of this to look forward to. I can imagine your frustration.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

So true. I have a Southern accent and occasionally people in the US have trouble understanding me. I am afraid to try it in France so I let my husband do all of the speaking.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

So funny!! I spent my junior year in Aix en Provence with a group from a southern US university. The combo of the deep Tennessee drawl mixed with the provencal accent made for almost unrecognizable French: "paing aux raisaings" pronounced by a Dixie girl...priceless.
You'll be fine.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I think I spent my semester in France on the same Southern university program in Aix as Polly-Vous Français. Just guessing, though. When I got back to my university in North Carolina after that semester, my professors quickly corrected my Aix-learned French pronunciation.

Recently when Walt and I were in Montréal, we met up with some bloggers there. One was a native Québécois. He told me that when he was in France, every time he spoke (Québec) French to waiters or hotel staff, the response came back in English! So much for la francophonie...

Géraldine said...

Good luck with re-learning. :)
How far are you able to make a different between accents in French? I have trouble differentiating the accents in English as it is not my 1st language. But it is very hard to help my readers and students get the difference between parisian / northern / savoyard accent.

If you need any help, let me know! ;) I'll happily "correct" your accent.

The Beaver said...

@ Stéphanie

I doubt the Québécois will correct your French or make an observation of your accent . They may mention that you have a French accent and may leave it at that ( or tease you about it once you become buddies).
The worse experience I have had is a Franco-French Teaching Assistant from France correcting the francophones in a French class. Most of the students were taking that class as an elective - an easy 3-credit course for written French to make life easier when one has classes and lab work either as an engineering or science student.

Murissa @The Wanderfull Traveler said...

I run into a similar situation when I try and speak French to people from France but I was taught by a French Canadian so I have a different accent accompanied along with an Canadian English accent since French isn't my first language.

The Wanderfull Traveler
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Angelina said...

I didn't know you were born in France! I do not have any kind of complicated accent but when I was having a conversation with a store owner in Paris (in French) she asked if I was from California. I asked her how she knew and she said I spoke French with a Californian accent. I thought that was pretty great. What the hell does a California accent sound like if you're not from the Valley? (Northern Californians like to think they have no accent of any kind at all)

Jennifer said...

Your baby will definitely pick it up when he starts school. :)
Where are you in France?

I know they think they're helping, but it is exhausting to be constantly corrected sometimes.

Jennifer said...

Oh dear! lol

Good luck!
After 10 years I still have moments when I struggle. C'est la vie.

Jennifer said...

You shouldn't be afraid...just dive in and you'll get there in the end.

I can only imagine! I sometimes catch myself saying "très bieng" around people who don't know I'm saying it as a joke. :)

Jennifer said...

I've heard that the Quebec accent is very different, but didn't realize that it was THAT different!

I can hear the differences now, but it wasn't easy at first. I think my coworkers assume that they don't have an accent, but they definitely do!
Thanks for the offer...I might take you up on that!

Jennifer said...

One day I'd like to visit Québec and hear the difference...

Ah! So you know exactly what I'm talking about!

Jennifer said...

(you know that I was just using that as an example...right?)
I can hear a California accent right away, especially the younger generation!

Jennifer said...

You left a comment that I accidentally deleted...sorry about that and thanks for the support! Hope one day my "southern" accent will mellow out and I'll stop being corrected. :)

spacedlaw said...

So you get teased for your meridional accent? :)

Katia said...

I love this - because I sympathise completely. My in-laws (who are Charentais, but have adopted a somewhat Stéphanois accent when it suits them) are always telling me I sound like such a Parisian. hehe. It wouldn't matter where we are or where we're from, we'll always have people correcting us - it all depends on how we take it. Obviously though, you are provided with plenty of opportunities to poke them back though, which I LOVE ;)

The Beaver said...


Well you will have to travel in different parts of the province to appreciate the different accents - some more pronounced than others . In Montréal you will have a meli-melo depending on where you live. During my student days I rubbed shoulders with Quebecers coming from different areas and picked up on the differences

Cynthia K said...

Wow, this explains a lot! Because of being constantly corrected, I stopped studying French, but now you've inspired me to continue. So thank you so much!

Jennifer said...

Shocking, I know!

Yes, I'm provided with lots of opportunity! (as are they!) lol

Jennifer said...

I think regional accents are fascinating!

I understand your frustration, but am happy to hear that you'll give it another try.

Mary said...

Yeesh! Your accent is what it is! :D Sometimes i'm tempted to correct people here when they say Or-a-GONE. The correct pronunciation is OR-e-gun. But i never do. I can hear my mother's voice saying.. 'You pay attention to what YOU do.' :) But i know people only mean well. And you are learning a lot. And French is such a gorgeous language, it would be nice to be able to speak it perfectly.. I only know what little i learned in high school. Someday...

Dean France said...

I lived in England during the linguistically formative years of two to six. I went to an English nursery and had my own Mary Poppins of a nanny. When my dad moved us to Minnesota, my English accent didn't go over well with the locals. I had a difficult time saying "r" in words e.g. car and drawer. I was deemed to have a speech impediment and spent hours after school with a speech pathologist who successfully scrubbed out any trace of an English accent.

Jennifer said...

Being able to speak French perfectly would be a dream! (though I don't know many French who can speak it perfectly, so I doubt I'll ever be able to either!)

How bizarre! A speech therapist?
I hope that wouldn't happen today.

La Torontoise said...

In Canada, speech therapist services are a standard part of the benefit package of any employer. However, to take advantage of it or not is a personal choice. Given the fact that the service is free and people either 'use it or loose it', most employees who go for this consider pronunciation-perfecting as a hobby and as a way of integrating themselves even further into Canadian culture. (They do not do it because their colleagues of fellow Canadians on the street do not understand them; if that's the case, you would not be able to get a job in the first place). I am a Bulgarian-born Canadian, so I was grateful for this opportunity to build a professional relationship with a Toronto-based therapist specialized in accent-removal work with clients of Slavic linguistic origin. In her couching practice, particularly valuable to me was (1) the correct mapping between the English sound system (English as spoken on the East cost) and the one of my native tongue, and (2) the mechanisms of learning those sounds that are unique in English and do not have any mapping in my native tongue's system. The effect was profound.
The linguistic knowledge I developed at the time included linguistic principles present in learning any language, and this is helping me now in my child's learning process in Dutch, English and French. (I work and live in the Netherlands and have a vacation home in Cannes).

La Torontoise said...

Stephanie/Artfully Adored,

Your note about the Quebec French triggered some reflection on my side...

I'd say, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned about your accent while in Quebec. Canadian culture is just not conductive to 'accent-correcting'.
In my humble opinion, unless you live in a remote cottage country 150-200 km of Montreal, in any work place accent-correcting would be considered a kind of impolite, uncultured and even politically incorrect behaviour. With multiculturalism being a national value (and I seriously mean it as it is backed up with the strong support by the government), it would be extremely rare that someone would comment (repeatedly) on your accent. I agree with Mary in my observation about the dominant attitude in the Canadian corporate world; it was a kind of 'You pay attention on what YOU do', indeed.

Also, Statistics Canada (the national statistics bureau) indicates that most Canadians are at least bilingual (I do not mean it English+French kind of bilingualism, but English OR French – as a second language – and another language as their native tongue). All key Canadian cosmopolitan areas, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, are melting pots (there are 128 languages spoken in Toronto alone). If 'Canadian-born Canadians' decide to fix everyone else's accent, they would be busy all day doing nothing else but correcting people's speech.
Beyond this, I think, everyday life can be hectic for most full-time working Canadians: imagine if your colleagues would have to spend 2 hours for their daily commute from and to a Montreal suburb, and with a full-time job, plus kids, plus cottage and all, it would be much less likely to have the stamina and the enthusiasm to correct your accent on day-to-day basis.

In the last 20 years, my job brought me to 4 countries where I lived and worked; my impressions are that the French people stand out by far as the most resourceful and dedicated participants in one's language learning process. It seems to me, they beat any record in terms of level of determination, time they are willing to spend on learners' progress, and fun they have in the process (it's not that I always share their sense of what's fun). I should acknowledge, I admire them for having big hearts for others and for being so generous with their time.

La Torontoise said...

Dear all,

I just now realized that Helene Dujardin, the author of the Tartelette blog and a Provence-born French, is moving to Alabama. I'm not kidding:

It looks like an interesting case in point, with high potential to add up even more substance to our conversation...