General Question

Mimishu1995's avatar

Native English speakers, when you speak casually do you use standard pronunciation?

Asked by Mimishu1995 (8332 points ) February 19th, 2014

By “standard pronunciation” I mean you pronounce words exactly like how they’re designed to be pronounced (like “he” is a long /i:/ but “decide” is a short /i/, “clock” is a short /o/ but “saw” is a long /o:/, “food” is a long /u:/ but put is a short /u/, cats is pronounced with a /s/ but dogs is pronounced with a /z/...) Do you emphasize these difference when you speak casually?

In my school there is a subject called “speech training” that solely focus on making these difference stand out. Most of my classmates (and even I) agree that this subject is a nightmare. They complain that English speakers have these rules, but they may not take them so seriously as to focus on these differences every time they speak. My teacher explain that the differences are very important because if we don’t follow the rules, no native English speakers will understand.

So far I can pronounce words within the rules when I have to say one word at a time, but when I have to speak or read, I can’t seem to follow the rules exactly and I always pronounce some words the same way (like he and decide).

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45 Answers

Brian1946's avatar

I usually do, except that I tend to not pronounce the “k” in “asked”. When I pronounce it, it sounds like “ast”.

bolwerk's avatar

There isn’t really a standard pronunciation. There is a socially accepted “proper” pronunciation English-speaking counties that I think varies a lot between English-speaking countries. Based on observation, I presume that is treated as a de facto standard when trying to teach English for formal settings (e.g., business).

Personally, my accent probably falls pretty close to what a newscaster in the USA would have, so I don’t think I deviate from socially accepted English too often. Most people in the USA or UK would understand me without difficulty. However, there are so many English dialects in the world that some of them can be barely mutually intelligible.

I think the most universally understood dialects are those heard on television. I would suggest it might be good to learn the rules the way they’re teaching them, but I would say, no, your teachers are not right about understanding. Frankly, I suspect that goes for all languages. English seems less fragmented than many.

hearkat's avatar

Very few people use standard American English pronunciation. It used to be that newscasters were trained to do so, but nowadays there are announcers with dialectical and articulation differences. Add the variations from English-speaking countries around the world, and their regional dialects, and it is not surprising that you can have two people speaking English, but being unable to understand each other.

dxs's avatar

Hah! English pronunciation! You’re in for a ride.
As @bolwerk said, there are accents everywhere. For instance, where I’m from, we barely pronounce our r’s. Pronunciation varies place to place, and so do things like which syllable you stress on a word.

Mimishu1995's avatar

So when I speak casually do I have to follow those rules exactly?

dxs's avatar

I would. If English is not your native language, then it will just make it harder for people to understand you if you try to speak in an accent since you may not grasp it correctly.
[addition]: An accent isn’t necessarily just a way people feel like talking. It’s something that’s a habit from their childhood. And yes, technically everybody has accents, so you should have one no matter what.

Cruiser's avatar

The feel to need to push “speech training” is reactionary and speaks volumes to the void that still exists in our society and others over the inherent diversity of who we are and where we came from IMHO we all have to better appreciate. I am still reminded on a daily basis on how different my Midwestern USA dialect is from southern, Canadian, European, Australian and obviously foreign countries. This is a teachable moment where IMO we need to embrace and not erase these inherent differences through speech training programs.

hearkat's avatar

I have patients whose native languages are not English – there’s German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Tagalog, and others -some are easier to understand than others, and it does help if the speak slowly and enunciate carefully. It is difficult to retrain your mouth to make the phonemes that don’t occur in your native tongue. My mother moved the the US in her early 20s, and that was more than 50 years ago, but she still has an accent so people know she is not originally from America.

When learning a new language, it is best to practice the standard pronunciations as a way to train your brain and your body to make those sounds in order to improve the chances that people who speak that language from other parts of the world will be able to understand you.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Cruiser The OP is not a native English speaker and does not live in an English-speaking country. She has to rely on her teachers and courses to learn correct English.

@Mimishu1995 I suggest you learn the way they are teaching it. I lived and taught English in Japan for a long time. They used to teach English pronunciation using katakana, which is horribly inadequate and resulted in being unintelligible.

Good luck.

Edit to add: I am an American, and I speak what I would suppose is standard American English whether I’m speaking formally in front of a group or when I’m speaking casually with friends.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@hearkat My mother moved the the US in her early 20s, and that was more than 50 years ago, but she still has an accent
For years I thought moving to a foreign country would change someone’s accent to standard pronunciation.

@Hawaii_Jake Well I guess the first thing I have to do is to stop complaining.
And thanks for wishing me good luck.

hearkat's avatar

@Mimishu1995 – No; Like my mother, most of my patients have lived in the US for more than half their lives. It is very rare for someone to completely lose the accent from their native language.

Adagio's avatar

@hearkat My brother moved from NZ to the US 20 years ago, the only difference in his pronunciation I have noticed is that he now says “tomAtoes” instead of “tomRtoes”

@Mimishu1995 The pronunciation you absorb as a child is a hard blueprint to veer from, although not impossible, given the right circumstances or inclination.

JLeslie's avatar

I once saw the actress Charlize Theron in an interview and an audience member from a foreign country asked her how she learned to speak English so much like an American. How she was able to get the accent so perfect. Charlize said that for her she need to really focused on enunciating every word clearly. That from her perspective, from her native language, English was choppy and the words do not run together. To her Americans say every word clearly.

I think most Americans do speak consistently. We do have a variety of accents though. The southern states have a different accent from the midwestern states and the northeast is different too. Just last week a man I was talking to from Tibet who had lived in India before America said when he first came to America he had trouble with the accent. His English was very good. His accent was a 5 on the scale of 1–10 in my opinion. Many many people in America have foreign accents. My husband still has some accent. He has been taking English class since age 4. He lived here for 2 years in high school, ages 14–16. He returned and went to university here. Now he is 46 years old, still a slight accent.

Probably 20% of the people I interact with lately have a foreign accent. Just in my zumba class there is a Polish woman, Eqyptian-Canadian, Greek, Philipines, Spanish, Mexican, Argentinian, and more. They all have accents. One of the girls from the Philipines whose English is pretty perfect was telling me the other day the words she can’t say. I don’t remember them, but I know my husband has a few words like that too. He cannot say sill correctly for some reason. He also has trouble with one form of past tense, he conjugates the verb incorrectly. His English is excellent, but just has a few little things that just don’t stick with him.

@Mimishu1995 Are you Japanese?

kritiper's avatar

It depends on exactly where you are and where you were raised. The Southern folks may have drawls, but there are differences in each Southern region. Same as New York City accents, and up-state New York accents. People in Boise, Idaho usually say “Boy-see” while others say “Boy-zee.” In some places other than Washington state, people say “Washington” while some people in Eastern Washington say “Warshington.”

Mimishu1995's avatar

@JLeslie I’m here. I thought you know already.

ragingloli's avatar

British people, yes, but almost no american uses correct pronunciation or even spelling.

cazzie's avatar

This is a funny subject, because I have a really mixed up accent and forget my first language (English) often and have to ask my 9 year old what the English word is for the Norwegian word that I can think of. I was always particular about pronunciation because my mother corrected me if I ever said ‘Axed’ instead of ‘Asked’ etc. and I was NEVER allowed by my parents to say ‘Yous guys’. But I grew up in the Midwest and my accent is still pretty much stuck there, with some added quirks. I do the same now in Norwegian and correct my son’s language.
@ragingloli you haven’t heard most British people speak. They don’t have any more command of their language than Americans do.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mimishu1995 I knew many many people from your country where I grew up. Their English was quite good, so I am going to assume you have very good English teachers there. Do you speak French? I don’t speak French, but to me it sounds like the words blur together a litttle, and I can tell you people who speak French as a first language usually have thick accents when they speak English with the exception of Montreal, QC where their English typically sounds native. My Vietnamese and Lebonese friends even though they also usually spoke French, their English was very good.

If you had been from Japan I would tell you the teachers and most of the people pronounce the letter L incorrectly. If you were from Quebec way up north of Montreal in the countryside amd mountains, including Quebec city, I would tell you the teachers have a ridiculously thick accent and so do their pupils. Their English can be surprising difficult to understand.

No matter what, when you finally come to America to visit you will probably have a little trouble initially, it’s always different whn you finally are fully immersed in the language. You would catch on fast most likely to the accent and cadence of the language. I speak differently when I am in New York (in the northeast of the country) than when I am in a southern state like Tennessee. Even we tend to adjust a little within our own language.

gailcalled's avatar

Whether I am speaking casually or more formally, my pronunciation doesn’t vary. I speak a form of standard English that is related to classroom English, a combination that reflects both where and and how I have grown up. My mother had a lot of speech training for her brief career in the movies and that trumped my father’s not-too-heavy-but-noticeable Bronx accent. She made a point of explaining the difference (over and over).

hearkat's avatar

@Adagio – Was English your brother’s native language? It is easier to learn dialectical differences of the same language than to learn pronunciation of a different language. When you say “the only difference” – do you mean difference from before he moved to the US, or difference from other Americans in the region where he now lives?

Some people have an ear for accents and a greater range and command of their speech; and can more easily mimic different pronunciations or adapt their speech patterns, so as with anything, there’s exceptions to every rule. Think of actors and comedians who can perform impersonations of other people or speak in very convincing accents.

There are varying degrees of how someone will lose or maintain an accent. One factor is whether they still use their native language around their home. My mother’s accent becomes stronger when she’s been spending time with people that use her native tongue, but fades fairly quickly again when she is back to using English all the time.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@JLeslie I was once taught French at high school. But French was not considered a compulsory subject at that time, and French itself wasn’t very useful here in most case. As a result no students had any will power to learn it properly, except for some rare students who wanted a career with French or intended on visiting France. I forget most of the French I learned now, but at least I still remember some basic words like “merci”.

I started learning Japanese for a month now. And my teacher said that Japanese tend to pronounce “L” and “R” the same way. So maybe you’re right.

I wish I could visit America for once though.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mimishu1995 I guess mostly it was the older generation Vietnamese who spoke French. I don’t know exactly why the Japanese pronounce L wrong. They must be taught it that way. It is never pronounced R in any English speaking country anywhere. Possibly it is because it can be difficult to make the sound for L. I could not say the sound for L when I was very very little. Maybe Japanese does not have that sound at all, and the English teachers don’t spend enough time teaching how to make the sound.

Seek's avatar

I’ve heard some say that American English pronunciation (I’m assuming the generic, Midwestern pronunciation) is actually closer to Shakespeare’s English pronunciation than modern British English pronunciation.

That said, my accent is a hodgepodge of affectations. I was born in New York City, live with my husband from the American Midwest, in Florida among Southern folk and Latinos, and the vast majority of my media intake is from the UK.

LostInParadise's avatar

The rule for English pronunciation is that unaccented syllables all have the same schwa sound,

cookieman's avatar

When I’m teaching, I try to for the benefit of the class (who are from many different places).

Casually, amongst friends? No. I have a very pronounced Boston accent and all the interesting pronunciations to go with it.

“Bottle of water” = “Bottleawattah”

“Did you eat?” = “Djeet?”

LuckyGuy's avatar

I pretty much sound like what you hear on the TV news, at work or with friends. I can turn on a NY City – Long Island accent at the drop of a hat but I only do that if I am joking around.

By the way @Mimishu1995, when I read your posts here you sound just like me. Perfect. No accent at all. :-)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

If you compared my speech to the standard pronunciations you’d think I was an illiterate cretin. I use all sorts of slang and the versions of speech I was brought up with. And you know, I’m perfectly happy with that. I like a little color in speech.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Usually I use correct enunciation, because I talk to clients a lot and am a professional.

The problem is when I get around other country folks and start using slang and twang…lol
You guys becomes ya’ll, back there is back’ere, that kind of thing.

LuckyGuy's avatar

We had a guy from Alabama present something to us. He started off by saying that he was not from around here and, to avoid confusion, he’d give us a definition:
“When I say “Y’all” I mean “One of y’all”. When I say “All y’all” that means “All ya’ll”.”
It was hilarious – and effective.

Stinley's avatar

I think that you might use different language and enunciate better if you were in a formal situation and you might pronounce words slightly differently than if you were hanging out with friends. I know that when I speak to English people I speak in a different way and if I speak to someone with the same accent as me, Scottish, I get more Scottish as the conversation progresses. But I would have thought that this is the prerogative of the native speaker. I think someone speaking a new language has to master the rules before breaking them.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Stinley Ah thooght Ah detected a bit ay Scottie in yer typin’.

@Mimishu1995 You most likely can detect regional differences in your first language, too.

LostInParadise's avatar

To elaborate on what I said earlier. One thing the OP wanted to know is if the vowel sound is always clearly enunciated. In the case of multi-syllable words all vowels in unaccented syllables, like the e in “decide”, get what is called a schwa, which is a sort of “uh” sound. The same holds for the a in “about,” the o in “button,” and the second i and u in “difficult.” Vowels at the end of words, other than silent e sounds, are generally pronounced. I don’t know if the last syllables of such words are considered accented. One complication is that words may have more than one accented syllable, like the first and third syllables of “difficulty.” In this case, both the first i and the u are clearly enunciated.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

English is my first language. On the rare occasion that I do public speaking, I usually use what is known as American Standard, the dialect you hear from most professional American broadcasters. Privately, though, as I moved from place to place, I would find myself picking up certain regionalisms. I was raised in the Chicago area, and I would think my native dialect would be that of a midwesterner. In the late seventies I moved to New Orleans, and lived in the South for about 20 years. I picked up the use of “y’all” (a contraction of “you all”), and continued to use it for the second person plural.

As a singer, I tend to fall into the dialect of the song. I once had a Texas native remark, “When ya sing, ya sing just like a Texan. But when you open yer mouth ta talk, ya sound like a damn Yankee!”

flutherother's avatar

If you know the words you’ll pick up the pronunciation quickly when talking to native speakers. I think it’s a mistake to focus on learning ‘standard pronunciation’ because there is no such thing. If you speak clearly and confidently you will be understood. (Typed on a Scottish keyboard)

Seek's avatar

I think half of our regional differences would be solved by the addition of a couple of pronouns: One second-person plural, and a gender neutral third person singular.

longgone's avatar

^^Get the US to speak German, and you’re there.

Seek's avatar

Weren’t we like, one vote away from German being the national language?

Adagio's avatar

@hearkat yes, my brother is a native English speaker from NZ. When I talk about the only difference in his pronunciation I have noticed I am comparing the way I’ve always known him to speak, i think he is a person who would consciously, or unconsciously, hold on to his native pronunciation.,

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr That is an urban myth based upon something called the Muhlenberg Legend. It’s based on a request around the time of the American Revolution that some laws be translated and printed in German because of the large number of German speakers in the land at the time. The United States has no decreed official language, but English is for all practical purposes the language of the law and commerce.

@Stinley, @flutherother If I say “It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht”, I’d be a’richt, ye ken!

@Mimishu1995 The line above is an example of a regional dialect of English that only a small percentage of English speakers could even understand, especially if spoken.

longgone's avatar

^^ Damn. That would have been great. Waiting for all your TV shows to get over here takes ages.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@LuckyGuy Thanks for the comliment. Actually several years ago my English was full of accent and from wording to sentence structure it sounded more like Vietnamese than English, both spoken and written. It took me quite a long time to change that.
Some of my classmates who live in Southern Vietnam have a very strong accent, and even when they speak English their accent is still with them. Foreigners like you won’t hear what they say clearly.

@Adirondackwannabe Nice. I don’t know much about English slang. Someday I’ll have to learn from you, master!

@flutherother That’s why everyone in my class objects to this subject. But some students don’t pronounce correctly even without any rules, sometimes to the point that they can’t even be understood. So how are they to prove to the teacher that they can do without the subject?
In my class there is an English teacher who comes from the US. Most of the time she can understand what I say, even though I can’t make some pronunciation clear (like /i/ and /i:/, /u/ and /u:/...). I can understand what she says perfectly vice versa.
Maybe the solution for everyone is just to let them speak with foreigners more often?

@Yetanotheruser I never knew English has some German mix…

JLeslie's avatar

@Mimishu1995 English is a Germanic language. We have a whole bunch of Latin root words and words taken from many languages, but it is still considered Germanic like French and Spanish are considered Latin or Romance languages.

It’s true we had a lot of German speakers in America around the time of the Declaration of Independence one of our most important documents for the country. When it was first published it was published in both English and German. That has nothing to do with English being Germanic though. Obviously, Americans spoke English in the beginnings of the country because we came over from England and other English speaking countries.

We adopted a lot of German words. Angst and Schadenfreude come to mind. Not sure why those are jumping in my head this evening.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@mimishu1995 The question of German translations of English language documents can be compared to the period when Vietnam was under French rules. If I am not mistaken, I believe there were many instances of official documents being
made available in both French and Vietnamese.

Stinley's avatar

For all you fans of the scots dialect, check out this!

DominicX's avatar

I tend to enunciate when I speak a little more than some of my peers, yes, but I do have a “California accent” and that affects some of my pronunciation, such as the fronting of the /u/ sound in words like “dude” and “fruit”. I also do not differentiate between “marry”, “Mary”, and “merry” (all sound identical to me) or “cot” and “caught” (also identical to me).

And as with most American English speakers, I also reduce /t/ to a glottal stop in words like “little” and “Dayton” in casual speech.

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