Do non-Americans have trouble understanding American English

British English seems to have been transformed by American English in many ways. As somebody said above, there has been a constant influx of new words, phrases and accents for decades now, mainly through music, cinema and TV. We really can deal with just about anything thrown at us from across the pond. I would say only relatively obscure accents and slangs are a problem nowadays. Having said that though, I have more of a problem with references to domestic politics and TV shows. Occasionally Will and Grace or Friends will throw me a curveball (nice American borrowing there :smiley:).

I don’t think we are in any danger of losing our local flavour just yet, if ever, but for example, the all-pervasiveness of the American accent in music does grate after a while. It’s a pity you don’t seem to have access to everything we have to offer here in Britain. I really think you are missing out on a lot of richness, and perhaps more importantly a different cultural perspective.

[quote=“coolcave”]

It’s a pity you don’t seem to have access to everything we have to offer here in Britain. I really think you are missing out on a lot of richness, and perhaps more importantly a different cultural perspective.[/quote]

I agree 100%.

Well, in Australia we are subjected to plenty of American and British TV, so I pretty much have no problem, except with exceptionally strong accents - very deep Southern, extremely broad Scottish or Irish or Welsh. Nothing I’ve seen on TV has fazed me with the notable exception of South Park, where I swear the first time I watched I could not understand a thing Cartman was saying. It was fine thereafter though! The movie Trainspotting took a while to get into as well. I’d like to know how it played in the States :slight_smile:

Obviously I’m fond of the Australian accent, but I’m a sucker for a nice British accent as well - a middle class one, not the ‘I have a poker shoved up my ass’ nor the ‘I’m upper class but I’m trying to sound like a cockney’ type :slight_smile: Americans often sound “loud” to me - I don’t know whether that’s due to actual pitch or to something about the vowel sounds of the accent. Anyway, they’re easier to hear in pubs :slight_smile:

Oooh, “Billy Elliot” is a tough one for beginners. As an American, I recommend “Mary Poppins” (thank you, Disney :unamused: ). Julie Andrews’s accent is different from the chimney sweep guy’s (was that Dick Van Dyke?). Baby steps, baby steps. :wink:

It did quite well. The Scots English was rather interesting.

When I hear RP, it seems so fucking contrived to me. I’m sure there are people who speak with an RP accent “naturally,” but most RP accented speakers really get up my nose. They always seem to be the same pretentious gits who go to great pains to avoid using a prepostion at the end of any sentence, no matter how cumbersome or silly it sounds to do so. Just my observation.

That’s because we just are loud, I guess. A lot of people say we have a more nasal accent, too. Many Canadians I’ve known have said this; to me, Canadians sound just as nasal or more nasal than the average American. IMO, some Americans sound nasal, some do not. Saying that another speaker of your language sounds “nasal” seems to be meant as nothing more than an insult (thus, I said the Canadians are nasal :smiley: ). “Nasal” has nothing but negative connotations. Back to being loud. While I was studying in England, my mother came to visit me. I had been there for a while and had unconsciously adjusted my speech and volume so as not to attract too much attention to my superior American English :wink: . I remember being very uncomfortable when riding the tube with my mom because she was so loud. At first I didn’t even realize why I was uncomfortable. I eventually asked my mother if she had noticed that she was much louder than everyone else on the train.

I think there is a lot more variation in accents within Britain than in all of the U.S. It seems to me that immigrants to America did a lot more mixing than the classes in Britain, but I think there is now a lot of mixing in the UK, too. When I was a child, my mother would always criticize my English. She studied an English degree and she taught school for one year, so she thought she knew it all. However, she has always lived in the southern U.S. and she has a very heavy southern accent. She’s not a redneck and she speaks grammatically, but native English speakers from outside the states have difficulty understanding her. She still doesn’t understand why. My wife can’t get her at all. I think it’s a personality clash as well as the thick accent. My mother tries to talk like a polite little southern bell, whereas my wife is more direct. When they talk on the phone, I can just hear the tension building in my wife’s voice. My mother always starts with a bunch of small talk, whereas my wife prefers to cut through the small talk as quickly as possible and actually talk about whatever is on her mind.

Seeing herself as the Chief of the Language Police, my mother thought it was great when I told her I was going to study in England. “Oh, you’re going to go learn the Quain’s English.” Haha. I guess she assumed that everybody in Britain has a perfect RP accent or that they all speak like a grammar book. She was quite shocked when she visited and discovered reality. She didn’t even understand why someone from Scotland would have a different accent from a Londoner. “But they’re both British, so they should both have the same “British” accent, right?” Very good entertainment value, that was. A year or two ago, we watched that movie Gosford (sp?) Park, the one about a weekend party in a late Victorian mansion ; during the movie, you see the lifestyle of the upper class on one hand, and the life of the servants on the other. The dialogue was brilliantly done; lots of dialect. Well, mom couldn’t understand any of the dialogue, not even the conversations among the upper class people.

I have a few questions for the Brits here. I have almost never heard nor seen any American use the word “whilst.” We will just say “while.” I’ve noticed that some Brits use it all the time, but others never use it. Are students taught to write “whilst” in composition classes in Britian?

What about beginning a sentence with “firstly” instead of just “first,” as in "There are three reasons why Canadians should just stop pretending they are an independent country and unify with the U.S. Firstly, … " I think most teachers in the States would get really annoyed if a student used the word “firstly.” I have noticed some Brits use this a lot, while others never use it.

My last question for this post regards the word “query.” I don’t recall having heard or seen this word very often while I was in England. However, in Hong Kong I hear and see both Brits and HKers use it all the time. “Don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any queries.” What is wrong with the word “question?” Of course, the Chinese in HK love to use this word. I’ve seen students raise their hands in class when they don’t understand a lecture and say: “Excuse me sir, I have a query…” This usage of whilst, firstly and query seems so archaic to me. What do you Brits think?

[quote=“Omniloquacious”]On a side note, I thrill to the sound of a polished British RP accent, but I can’t say I’ve ever found very much pleasing to the ear about any kind of American accent. Of all non-British English accents, my favourite by far is the lilting tones of Singaporean English.[/quote]I like a lot of different accents. Of U.S. American accents, I like some New York and southern ones. I do like Singaporean and Malaysian ones, but also Indian and Pakistani. My father has lived in England for a great many years but comes from Glasgow. Apparently when I was very little I also spoke with a recognisably Scottish accent. I still find Scottish accents and Glaswegian ones in particular very soothing to listen to. I can even understand and enjoy listening to most of Rab C. Nesbitt’s rantings. And why do so many people have it in for the Birmingham accent? I find it very pleasing to listen to, especially when spoken by a comely Brummie lass.

You can listen to examples of English speech by both native and non-native speakers from many countries here;
classweb.gmu.edu/accent/

Of the non-native speakers I really like the Brazilian accents, particularly the one from Bahia. But then I think that Brazilian Portuguese is one of the most beautiful-sounding and expressive languages in the world.

who’s loud?

in hawaii, kanaka (natives) say haolis (whites) are loud.
taiwanese say philipinos and thai are loud.
when i was in scotland, the scots were definately loud.
chinese peasants are much louder than city folks.
american urban youth are louder than suburban counterparts (sorry for speaking in “code”)

after being in a location awhile, the loudness seems to go down. are they reallly louder or do we just notice them more because of the difference? maybe our minds want to understand even when we know we can’t and turns up the volume nonetheless.

or maybe, it is a quick and dirty way of sorting people out. in all the examples cited above…the people describing themselves as quieter than other groups also held themselves in higher esteem and looked down upon the “louder” folks.

JT, your post brings up some interesting issues. Among people who are interested in language, there are some fussy, prescriptive-grammarian pedants, some people who like to use long words where short ones will do and some who prefer ‘plain English’ - language that is as simple and accesible as can be without destroying meaning. I tend towards the last of these types although I’m not shy to use a long word where it’s necessary.

None of those terms are archaic if they’re in common current use. I think what you are implying is that they are fussy and unnecessary.

I sometimes use firstly, secondly etc. in writing. It’s what I’m used to. The bulk of formal writing I’ve read uses that form rather than just first, second, third.

I’m not sure whether it could be argued that ‘whilst’ and ‘query’ have any slight semantic differences from ‘while’ and ‘question’. I normally use the latter forms, but I’m used to seeing the former ones as well. The students saying ‘Can I ask a query?’ does seem unnatural and I wonder if they use it because they think it sounds more intelligent or distinguished or something.

The Canadian accent is not nasal in the slightest in comparison with any American accent. It’s rather bizarre that you would say this, though I might understand such a comment coming from a Briton.

North America’s nose-speakers live around the Great Lakes below the border, notably Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago. They are the heirs of the “Northern Cities Vowel Shift,” wherein hot and hat have become hat and hayat, respectively. Bill Murray has a classic NCVS accent, though he toned it down a bit for “Lost in Translation.” Watch him in “Mad Dog and Glory” for the full effect.

I remember watching Apted’s ‘Seven Up’, where he interviews a spectrum of British children at the age of seven and then follows up every seven years. I still remember this little boy with an accent so posh it just amazed me - he was saying something about ‘his mama buying him a pony’ and it was just so perfect ‘Prince Charles’. I assume some people really do talk like that - he was too young to be terribly affected I thought.

Oh, and Canadians and Americans sound exactly the same to me - I’ve been told that Canadians tend to say ‘aboot’ and ‘eh’ a lot and I assume there’s some kind of an accent difference but it’s too subtle for me!

Not that I’m British, but I would tend to use “firstly” - it just sounds right to me. Wouldn’t use the others, but they don’t sound archaic to me, just ‘posh’.

Well whatever, but just as long as you realise it was a personal observation and not intended as a derogatory comment - if I were going to slag people at random I’d really try not to leave the British and Kiwis out of it :slight_smile: Oh, and I believe the Cantonese are damn loud and proud of it.

“Jive Turkey”, your post is amusing :laughing: , but left me with a bit of a pain in the arse/ass/butt/bottom, too. :unamused:

[quote=“Jive Turkey”]
When I hear RP, it seems so fucking contrived to me. I’m sure there are people who speak with an RP accent “naturally,” but most RP accented speakers really get up my nose. They always seem to be the same pretentious gits who go to great pains to avoid using a prepostion at the end of any sentence, no matter how cumbersome or silly it sounds to do so. Just my observation.[/quote]

If one (you?) was taught RP then that’s the way one speaks. Period/full stop. Sure it gets up some people’s noses, but it’s hardly the speaker’s fault. Sure, some people affect the accent, but then most of us switch between formal and informal varieties depending on the location and the company we are keeping anyway

Is it really that difficult to understand English spoken with an accent other than one’s own? I’ve not had a problem, but I’m perfectly willing to clarify when I don’t quite catch something, and could care less that someone speaks with an accent different from my own. In fact, I quite relish the differences in accents among my multinational group of friends and acquaintances.

The discussion I’m having with someone, and the relationship for that matter, is far more important to me than stuffy notions of which accents sound better. Certain accents aren’t pleasing? Jesus Christ :unamused: .

I can’t understand the mindset of someone petty enough to actually care about what accent someone speaks English with, other than to appreciate it.

Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?

[quote=“flike”]Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?[/quote]
Received Pronunciation. [/url]

[quote=“flike”]Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?[/quote]

I’d suggest Really Posh. It makes more sense than Received Pronunciation. :slight_smile:

Info here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation

“Received Pronunciation” - I believe it’s the way the bloke who does the BBC news speaks. I’ve also heard it’s taught at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) - it’s the ‘standard of standards’ for British English.

Edited to add - oh, way too slow, as usual :slight_smile:

Tomas, it’s nice that you couldn’t give a damn about accents. I find them actively interesting, and have no problem with the concept that some people find some accents more pleasant than others. It’s like a discussion on hair colour, where some people like brown hair and others blonde - it’s a preference, not a judgment on the person (well, unless one is blonde… kidding! kidding! :laughing: )

[quote=“flike”]Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?[/quote]
Thae fowk whit talk like thiv goat a loady plums in thir gubs.

[quote=“sandman”][quote=“flike”]Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?[/quote]
Thae fowk whit talk like thiv goat a loady plums in thir gubs.[/quote]

Does that translate into:

The folk (or fuck?) which talk like this got a lot of plums in their gums? :?

[quote=“smerf”][quote=“sandman”][quote=“flike”]Well, I’ve got to ask. What is RP? I mean, what’s being abbreviated?

Royal…what, Palaver?[/quote]
Thae fowk whit talk like thiv goat a loady plums in thir gubs.[/quote]

Does that translate into:

The folk (or fuck?) which talk like this got a lot of plums in their gums? :?[/quote]
No.
“Those people who talk as if they have a mouthful of plums.”

[quote=“joesax”]Jive Turkey wrote:
This usage of whilst, firstly and query seems so archaic to me. What do you Brits think?

None of those terms are archaic if they’re in common current use. I think what you are implying is that they are fussy and unnecessary. [/quote]
But of course the word “archaic” depends on context. In the U.S., words like whilst, firstly and query would be considered archaic since we don’t really use them anymore. Would the American “have gotten” (as opposed to have got) be considered archaic in Britain? Maybe it has been out of use for so long that Brits don’t even recognize it as anything other than an Americanism. Most of the Brits I’ve known don’t even know that it was commonly used in England a couple of hundred years ago. Should I say “archaic in American English?” I don’t know. I’ve known some Brits who also considered words like whilst, firstly and query archaic. Or maybe, as you say, they just find them unnecessary and want to put the big, bad archaic label on them.

You wouldn’t be Canadian, would you? As I read your post, I can just hear the muscles of your nasal cavity clenching every syllable. :wink:

I think they do the “aboat” and “eh” thing just to sound different from us Americans. :slight_smile:

[quote=“E-clectic”]If one (you?) was taught RP then that’s the way one speaks. Period/full stop. Sure it gets up some people’s noses, but it’s hardly the speaker’s fault. …Wasn