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Does your first language accent affect your Japanese?

I got this question about accents from reader Ashlynn:

I am starting college next year and intend on Majoring in East Asian studies (Japanese). I have a bit of a southern accent. If you had a strong accent did that cause you any trouble in the class? Or do they kind of teach you where to place your tongue or other techniques to pronounce things correctly in the right accent?

First off, your native language is _definitely _going to influence the way your Japanese sounds, more so at first and hopefully less and less as you progress. But for many people it will stay with them forever.

This is true with non-natives speaking English - everyone knows what a French accent, Russian accent etc. sounds like in English. The same does of course apply to Japanese and any other language you might be studying.

But that isn’t quite what Ashlynn was asking. Does having a strong ‘non-standard’ accent in your native language cause particular difficulties when learning a foreign language? I’m no expert, but I can’t see how it would be any different to having a standard accent. The way you speak your native language is going to influence your foreign language, especially at first.

Don’t pay attention to non-native accents

Perhaps the danger here is comparing your accent to that of your classmates (or even the teacher if they’re not a native speaker). Your Japanese accent could certainly stand out if no-one else in the class has an English accent like yours. But you’re not trying to sound like your classmates. You’re trying to sound like a native Japanese speaker.

I would say that ultimately, your Japanese accent should sound nothing like your English accent, so it doesn’t matter what your English accent is like. You’ve got to focus on the sounds of Japanese, not English. Good classes and teachers will of course help you get to grips with accurate Japanese pronunciation. Getting a good accent in a foreign language still takes at least several months, or usually years. The only thing to do is keep listening and copying carefully.

Got more insight on pronunciation issues? Please share all in the comments!

Contact me: mhg@eastasiastudent.net