La musique de la langue anglaise - Cher lecteur

La musique de la langue anglaise - Cher lecteur

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QUESTION

Hey,

I've been reading your newsletter for quite a few months now and I always enjoy them so I thought I'd write something back for once.
I have a weird problem that I'll explain because I need your help :)
I'm a second-year student in English and I just love this language. I've said adieu to French TV and books a long time ago - even though I do make some tiny weeny exceptions - but I still struggle with spoken English.
The thing is, I have a very strong American accent. I've never been to the US but that's the way it is. I tried to mimic Americans and I guess I went a little overboard!
Several teachers were convinced I had lived in the US for at least a couple of years. That made me proud and overjoyed but my phonetics teacher isn't so happy about that. He basically told me to get a British accent because according to him that's what I'm supposed to learn - plus he can't stand American accents and I got penalized because of that.

What would you do in order to get a British accent that doesn't sound too posh or artificial? The worst comment I ever got for that matter was "Oh, stop trying to sound British. We all know you're American.". I won't be posting a sound file again before I can improve my speaking skills . . .

Moreover, sometimes I get the impression that my memory is poor. I'm an auditory learner as you might have guessed, and memorising large chunks of text or endless lists of vocab isn't really my cup of tea. It's a shame because once I buckle down and take lists or texts I can learn quite a lot, but it just doesn't click most of the time.

Do you have advice when it comes to learning vocab or lessons? I've tried every single method out there!

So yeah, that's about it!
I hope that you can give me a hand!

Thanks again for your newsletter

Talk soon hopefully

Rose


MES COMMENTAIRES :

Hello Rose!

Thank you for your e-mail. It's actually one of the best written pieces I've received so far, that's nice!

First off, I want to point out that your phonetics teacher being angry because of your American accent is unacceptable. I can understand that he wants to teach a certain way but he should be here to guide you, not dictate you. I mean, who's responsible for your learning here? Is it him or you? Of course, it's you! You're the one who will use the language, if your personal tastes and experiences with American culture influence you, so be it. Your teacher is just here to help. When your goal is to be able to communicate in English that shouldn't matter who likes who or what. Languages are supposed to help people open up, no segregate. So I really think you should get the point across that you and him just have to "agree to disagree".

That being said. I'll still answer your question because 1) that's an interesting one and 2) you should have the choice of your accent.

So... "What would you do in order to get a British accent that doesn't sound too posh or artificial?".

The answer to this question will be a very obvious one. For it is something you have done already.

You've mentioned your trying to mimic Americans and saying adieu to French TV... I assume from this alone that you have done as my book suggests, that is to say, by immersing yourself in American culture. Making it part of your life, letting it grow on you.

Why don't you simply do the same with British culture?

Immerse yourself in British culture.

There is just so much to discover. There are just so many TV shows to start with. There's a bit of everything and you will get to see many different accents along the way. What's more, being curious, just about the accent of the people you're watching, is already enough to keep you watching... I remember viewing "Coronation Street" now and again: it's a soap opera (pretty much like "Plus belle la vie" in France, except it's been running for almost 50 years!) but I had a great time watching that. I honestly don't think it's the greatest show to watch (unless you love soap operas...) but it's really easy to get hooked on it, it's easy to follow, and you can just focus on getting used to everyone's accent in the show... It's just an example. There are TONS of British TV programs...

Your e-mail also led me to think that you would like a quick fix for this accent thing... If you want to change your accent, try to make the change as smoothly and naturally as possible. Sure, you can grab a "Received Pronunciation" reference sheet and try and repeat every "chiefly british" sound on it for 2 hours every day... But there's nothing natural about it. I'm not saying it wouldn't help, I'm just saying that this would be a lot of work for poor results.

I've got a couple of sisters living in Québec... After just a few months there, they had started growing a strong (at least for a French guy) French-Canadian accent... Now this will vary from people to people so my point is this: it can happen naturally pretty rapidly without even trying.

What I mean by natural here is that if you see people doing something then mimicking happens on its own... It's what being human with all of the social implications behind it also mean. So hang with British people, even if it's just on TV, and it will grow on you.

Here's a little story I've read of recently. It's a psychological experiment that was conducted on kids with phobias, kids with a fear of dogs specifically. Long story short. They ran split tests to try and check how important social conditioning could be as a way to cure phobias and what they found out was that the mere fact of showing to kids with phobias other kids interacting with dogs

So if you really want to do that British accent thing... Forget your American stuff (TV, audio books, songs and the like) for a while and focus on British culture only. Enjoy what you find there, enjoy this sort of a trip you will be going through... And let it grow on you. Adopt it. Repeat it. And you will get the results you seek.


So be sure to check Chapter 6 of my book. It addresses a few of the psychological issues I think are at work when dealing with accents (why some people have them, why some don't) and tips on how to acquire the one you want.
Take care!!
Fab



COMMENTAIRE

Salut,

Très originale ta méthode. Ca a l'air beaucoup moins rébarbatif que les cours d'anglais classiques que j'ai pu suivre au collège, lycée, prépa et école.
Mon principal problème en anglais c'est la compréhension orale. Grammaire, vocabulaire et compréhension écrite, ca va plutôt bien. Je pense juste que je n'ai pas l'oreille, je me focalise trop sur l'accent quand je parle a un américain ou un anglais et pas sur ce qu'il me raconte. C'est vraiment frustrant.

Espérons qu'avec ton bouquin, ca m'aide a devenir vraiment bilingue, parce que j'ai vraiment envie de travailler dans un pays anglophone, je voudrais que la barrière de la langue n'en soit plus une.

A plus

Jean-Marie


MES COMMENTAIRES :

Bonjour Jean-Marie,

D'abord, je voudrais préciser que c'est tout à fait normal et même CONSTRUCTIF de se concentrer sur l'accent de ses interlocuteurs dans un premier temps (à vrai dire, naturellement, les enfants commencent par cela : les nourrissons s'habituent d'abord à la musique de la langue natale qu'ils entendent et, seulement plus tard, aux sons pris individuellement puis au sens). C'est naturel parce qu'il s'agit bien de s'habituer à quelque chose qui est nouveau et qui, en même temps, est régulier... Les langues, par leur "musique", disposent chacune d'une sorte de motif. S'habituer à ces motifs, à cette musique, à ce que la langue a de prévisible... C'est s'habituer à la langue dans son ensemble.

Ce que je peux te recommander, c'est de t'accoutumer à entendre de l'anglais. Cela te permettra à la fois de mieux entendre tes interlocuteurs (en les rendant prévisibles) et, aussi, de ne plus être surpris par la nouveauté.

Ce que l'on entend malheureusement assez peu comme conseil, parce que cela va à l'encontre de l'intuition, même si c'est TRES efficace, c'est d'écouter plusieurs fois par jour des dialogues dans la langue MEME SI L'ON NE COMPREND RIEN. En tant qu'êtres humains on se sent tellement obligés de tout comprendre... Ecouter passivement ne suffit évidemment pas à devenir bilingue mais cela suffit bel et bien à s'habituer aux sonorités... Ce qui permet de mieux entendre la musique de la langue puis les sons... Et comme on les distingue mieux, petit à petit, c'est comme si nos oreilles "s'ouvraient" de nouveau (ce qui est effectivement le cas, notre cerveau redevient capables de distinguer des sons qu'il ne distinguait plus depuis l'enfance). Cela permet, à son tour, de prononcer les sons de la langue cible.

Evidemment, faire tout cela, de nos jours, avec les MP3, est très facile. De ne pas tout comprendre ne signifie pas que cela n'aide pas. A titre d'exemple, au départ, en faisant cela avec le hongrois, je comprends sûrement bien moins de 10% des mots... Mais cela m'a "ouvert les oreilles".

S'habituer aux sonorités de la langue est un premier pas important. Cela peut sembler peu et pourtant c'est souvent négligé et responsable de la plupart des problèmes qu'ont les français à l'oral. On ne brisera jamais la barrière de la langue sans s'habituer aux sons.

A vrai dire, cela peut se faire en quelques heures (pour avoir une vue d'ensemble) puis en quinze jours environ (pour rendre les sons familiers et vraiment bien les distinguer les uns des autres). Cela représente en fait beaucoup moins de travail que la grammaire, l'expression ou le vocabulaire. AUSSI, cela rend, à mon humble avis, la langue immédiatement agréable (on peut alors déjà la parler ou l'entendre) parce que le son c'est ce qu'il y a de plus vivant dans une langue.
Amicalement,
Fabien




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Fabien Bilingue en anglais Snauwaert