As English speakers, we are among the laziest linguists in the world, waiting for everyone else to talk like us. But how do we sound to foreign ears?
Have you ever had the TV or radio on with the volume high enough to hear sound but too low to make out what people are saying?
How our language is perceived is something, as speakers, we rarely get an insight into.
Ask people which language sounds the most appealing and they will usually answer French, Spanish or Italian.
But our own language never seems able to take first place in the linguistics beauty pageant. So doesn’t anyone find our language pretty?
‘I think British English is very beautiful,’ said Rachel Xiao, a native Mandarin speaker who has studied English for three years at language school International House London.
‘It’s very flowy. When I hear native speakers, it’s like you’re singing a song because all the words seem connected together,’ she added.
English is not particular to Britain. It’s a global language spoken with many varied accents.
So does accent make a difference to the euphony of the English language?
‘British and American English sound very different to me,’ Rachel said. ‘American English sounds very casual and more practical, while British English sounds much more refined.’
But fellow IHL student Alina Ruchinka disagrees. ‘Americans speak slower,’ the 21-year-old said. ‘British English is a lot quicker and much more aggressive.’ However, both agree English does not sound similar to any other language – despite it belonging to the same family as German, Dutch and Afrikaans.
Wayne Rimmer is co-ordinator of the Pronunciation Special Interest Group at the International Association of Teachers as a Foreign Language. He believes the root of people’s preferences often boils down to plain prejudice.
While received pronunciation – or Queen’s English – is only spoken by a tiny portion of the country it is still ‘perceived as a model of the language that people want to learn’.
Perception depends on the listener’s background.
‘If you come from a Germanic language, the differences won’t seem so extreme,’ Mr Rimmer said. ‘But coming from a very different language group like Thai, they will be a lot more striking.’
Barry O’Leary, who has taught English as a foreign language for ten years, says his students in Spain have an interesting way to describe how we speak our language.
‘They say we speak like chickens,’ he revealed. ‘We don’t open our mouths; it’s just a continuous stream of sounds they’ve never heard before.’
While Spanish students tend to prefer the way Brits sound, students from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas sway towards the American accent ‘because they are exposed to that so much more’.
English has drawn words from French, Latin, Germanic and, to a lesser extent, Celtic languages. Some might argue this makes it a less distinctive sounding language but Mr Rimmer insists the picture is not that simple.
‘English is obviously a mongrel language in terms of vocabulary,’ he said. ‘It is a distinct language with its own grammar and its own path.’
Words starting with ‘th’ are specific to English, which some learners find difficult.
Mr Rimmer added: ‘The real distinctive thing about English is that it’s global in a way other languages are not and in turn, has a lot of influences because of that.’
See on metro.co.uk