ASK A QUESTION Is it possible to speak without an accent if you learn the language as an adult?
My grandmother's mother moved to the United States and learned English at age 19. She lived until age 100, when she passed away.
This means that she spoke her native language for 19 or 20 years and spoke English for about 80 years. However, her accent was so thick, that you could hardly understand her - even though she spoke English for 80 years!
A child can learn to speak like a native in just a few years, but an adult cannot.
Two thoughts come to mind:
1) Are there other aspects of language (such as prepositions) that must be learned while young, or they are never mastered?
2) Are there examples of adults who have learned a second (or third) language and mastered the pronunciation aspects well enough to be considered to speak "without an accent".
It would be interesting to hear other stories like that one about my Great Grandmother.
I don't know exactly when she learned it, but my freshman year of high school I had a Spanish teacher from whom I learned a lot. When I knew her, I would guess that she had lived in the US for about 60 years, but she grew up in South America. I don't know exactly when she learned English, but I seem to recall that she was between 15 and 18 years old, which is definitely past the generally agreed upon age cap for ability to speak like a native-speaker. Her English was flawless. Better than most of the students'. No accent or anything. I only realized she wasn't a native English speaker when about three quarters of the way through the school year she asked a question about English that indicated that she thought we had more knowledge about English than she did. It was a good question, perfectly reasonable, and (though I can't remember it exactly) quite advanced. Someone volunteered the answer and someone asked if English wasn't her first language, and she told us it wasn't.
I guess you keep learning even after others stop noticing.
Sure. Actors do it all the time. They can learn an accent without even knowing the language. I don't know how much is inborn talent and how much is just training. It's really a matter of training your ear, IMHO. Plus lots and lots of practice and listening to recordings of yourself talking.
Edit: I should qualify this by saying that there are some sounds that some people cannot hear if they are not exposed to them at a young age. Many native Japanese speakers cannot hear the difference between the English "L" and "R" sounds. There are certain Native American and African languages that would be very difficult to learn to speak accent-free if you learned them as an adult. But a native English speaker should be able to learn to speak Spanish pretty well, regardless of the age they start. The sounds just aren't that different.
I would have to say yes to your original question. I've done some studies as an undergrad on linguistics, accents and pronunciation and such, and after some training, I speak great spanish, verified by hispanohablantes de Guinea Equitorial, México, Colombia, etc. (not just being pompous).
There are certain physical processes that need to be taught to master any language, as far as accents are concerned.
As far as whether or not all of these processes can be learned and implemented by an oldie learning a new language, I don't know.
My 2 cents. :D
I have heard people speak Polish who only learnt it as adults and you can see straight away they hadn't learned it as kids. However Polish is one of the most difficult languages in the world and the pronounciations are exceptionally difficult. Some people need operations on their toungues just to be able to speak it properly so i suppose with Spanish or English, learning to speak it properly is more easily achieved.
This is a good question. In my opinion it's okay if someone has a little accent. My first language is Dutch. I'm fluent in English. I do feel that in my mind I think perfect English, and when I try to make the words come out, my tongue gives me the Dutch accent, and sentences come out less good. My English is still good, but it's annoying that my thinking in English is better than speaking. When I'm surrounded by English/American people my English does get better.
On my holiday last week I noticed something else. I was visiting friends in England and for the whole week I had no problems. One morning I was doing a video lesson on spanishdict, and when I wanted to speak English that day, I found out that I just lost it (my English). The whole day my English was a mess! So I think my brain had a language barrier or overload! It couldn't cope translating from Dutch to English and learning Spanish at the same time. Big Language error in my brain hihi :D and the result: an English shut-down. We did have a big laugh about it, me and my friends. I really said funny things that day, things that just weren't any language I think. hihi.
Looking forward to reading more stories about this subject!
May I suggest (the) your problem understanding your great grandmother was not only about her having an accent but also, at least in part, due to incorrect pronunciation.
We ALL have accents. As said above good actors can sound authentic even without understanding the language.
I remember the film "Out of Africa" starring Merryl Streep. She spoke perfect English in the film but played the part of a Danish lady. She had a very slight Danish accent that very few people in the world would have recognised. Someone had taught her how to do this.
I taught English in the Czech Republic and met dozens of Czech people who you would be full sure were English (Sometimes American, sometimes Irish, depending on where they learned English) when you talked to them. I would have bet money on it!
Czech and English are very very different languages, Spanish and English have a lot more in common, so I'm sure it's very possible.
English speaking people find pronunciation from other Germanic languages like German and Dutch easiest, but with hard work you can do anything
Remember your grandmother didn't have all the resources available to her when she was learning English as we do now learning Spanish.
If you are really serious about getting rid of your accent it might be worth looking into getting special "lose your accent" classes. I know they do them in English, I assume in Spanish too. But I really think it's a pity when someone looses their accent. How you talk is something about who you are.
Honestly I think it depends on the individual - and don't forget that people like your grandmother Peter, lived a unique set of circumstances, she probably did not work and probably was surrounded by Spanish speakers in the house? That would make the difference. She probably lived in a little Spanish 'bubble' so I would not fault her for not having made more progress. I have met so many polyglots (mostly Europeans) who absolutely dominate English and believe me I am critical (without meaning to be so) but for some reason my brain seems to pick up the errors and make a note of them and it astounds me the level of knowledge the Europeans seem to acquire. Meanwhile here in Canada they can`t even seem to get school kids to learn our second official language properly. I just don't get it. The study of language is fascinating isn't it.
A lot depends on whether the people who are learning a language as an adult are living solely amongst their adopted language speakers , and are not living at home speaking their native language. Also there are many people who are "language Parrots" in other words they have the ability to copy the accents quickly and easily . If you notice great actors who play a role of a character who speaks in an accent or language other than their own , they are able to make themselves sound quite authentic , those who have a good ear for music can usually copy an accent quite readily , I am sure we all have this ability if we try hard enough and believe in our natural instincts for survival.
I agree with Margaretbl and Ray76 - some people do it better than others, it's an innate ability. However, it's an ability that should be nurtured early in life, just like music. I have met Americans who have this knack, but less in numbers, because Americans do not encourage their children to learn foreign languages - so, they don't know if they have this ability or not, and do not develop it.
My father was Italian, went to Brazil at age 6, lived there for almost 40 years, then moved to Bolivia for 4 years, and finally to the US. Although he had a great ability for languages, he did have an accent, and whenever someone mentioned his accent, he would say "speaking a foreign language requires you to make mistakes to learn; I make mistakes and have an accent in four languages - and you?"