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S. Florida’s Many Accents Make English a Tough Listen

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Elizabeth Baier, South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Miami), February 29, 2008

Stella Santana, a native of Uruguay who has taken English classes for six years, considers her grammar and reading skills in English as advanced. But as an administrative assistant for the luxury W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, she tires when potential customers ask her to repeat herself.

Once, one said: “Can I speak with someone who speaks English?”

“I felt horrible,” Santana said. “I have excellent grammar skills. Maybe I have to smooth out my pronunciation when I try to say something fast, but I know how to speak English.”

Santana is among the growing number of non-native English speakers around South Florida who strive to be understood better. They’ve taken English classes for years and largely consider themselves fluent. But they can’t seem to ditch the accent.

{snip}

Classes geared for people who already speak English and want to improve their pronunciation have steadily increased in demand in recent years. Many are now offered at community colleges and private language institutes around South Florida periodically throughout the year.

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Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who heads the Broward Latin Chamber of Commerce, said the stiffest competition in the workforce often comes from U.S.-born Hispanics who are reared bilingually and have near-perfect pronunciation in both languages.

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The hot-button issue of immigration also is sending many non-native English speakers to classes to improve their pronunciation, said Ana Roca, a linguistics expert and language professor at Florida International University.

“Many people are showing anti-immigrant attitudes very openly,” Roca said. “There always are chances that people are going to discriminate because of somebody’s accent.”

How accented English is perceived also varies depending on a person’s native language, Roca said. People often associate a French accent with perfume and sophistication and a British accent with Shakespeare and literature. A Spanish accent has different connotations.

“They associate Spanish with the person who may be cutting your lawn or illegal immigrants,” Roca said. “There definitely are more stereotypes for people with a Spanish accent.”

{snip}

The simple past tense of verbs ending in “-ed” and words that begin in “s” are especially troublesome for Spanish speakers because of a combination of intonation, facial expression and tongue placement, Quintana said. It’s also difficult for many to understand why certain vowel combinations — like “ee” in “sheep” and “ea” in “cheap” — sound the same. For Santana, who moved to South Florida from Uruguay 10 years ago, contractions pose the biggest challenge. “Instead of saying ‘could have been,’ people say ‘could’ve been,’ Santana. “That’s very confusing.”

{snip}

Original article

Email Elizabeth Baier at ebaier@sun-sentinel.com.

(Posted on February 29, 2008)

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Comments

I myself live in south florida.I often have to the first and last names of some of the people I talk to at work for Documentation of my call.Between the accents and odd names I often have to make up a name that sound like what I heard.I would go nuts if I had to spell every name correctly.

Posted by Tony Soprano at 7:31 PM on February 29


Learn how to speak Spanish. That will be the national official language in the next ten years. Our politically correct Marxist leaders will easily vote that Spanish be the Official language of the United States ( we don”t want to offend our super power neighbor to the south).

Posted by at 7:59 PM on February 29


I come across customer service people in Northern Virignia with inpenetrable accents frequently. I have a personal policy of asking them to repeat themselves, then saying politely and clearly, “I’m sorry, but I am unable to understand what you are saying. Is there someone else who can help me?” I highly recommend this approach - and DON’T lower your voice or act embarrassed when you say it.

When I use that line, I make sure to smile and use an even tone of voice so it comes across as a statement of fact and not an insult (for my dignity, not their’s). I used to always get shocked stares from people around me when I said it. A few years ago a man told me that I “shouldn’t say that”, but I replied “Why not? It’s true, and it’s not my fault that I can’t understand her.” He didn’t have a reply to that and walked away.

Bystanders don’t seem as surprised anymore though; more and more Americans are beginning to speak up.

PS: Anyone who says they speak perfect English when Americans can’t understand them is showing their ignorance. Languages are meant to be spoken, and if you can’t pronounce the words you can’t speak the language.

Posted by Jill at 8:35 PM on February 29


The natural sequitur to this is to convene the Men and Women Of Letters with an agenda on ways to modify the English language so as to make it more “embracing”.

Posted by underdog at 9:51 PM on February 29


You’re not fluent if nobody can understand you!
Have you ever practiced speaking Spanish to native speakers? One minor mistake and they are all over you. They have no mercy, trust me.

So sorry, Sr. Santana, if our language is so confusing for you, but we will not be changing our grammar to make it less so (obviously, that would be the next demand). Get used to it.

Posted by kitty at 9:55 PM on February 29


“contractions pose the biggest challenge.”

I beg to differ, being an expert in trying to decipher broken English in a thick accent.

Two of the most difficult to understand words are shoes and sharp.

For example they say, “she looked charp in her new choose.”

Posted by at 10:15 PM on February 29


Maybe the state of Florida should make sign language the official language of the state. Teach it to the kids in school, free classes at libraries, community centers etc, a cable TV channel. Then everyone will understand each other.

Pantomine actually started in the last centuries of the Roman Empire. Theater managers realized that the diverse population of slaves, freemen and immigrants could not under stand Latin. So they developed pantomine so their audiences could understand the actors.

Posted by margaret at 10:37 PM on February 29


At least Ms. Santana has the gumption to study English and work for a living. It’s not her responsibility to guard our borders or make our immigration policy. She’ll end up a victim of White negligence just as much as the rest of us.

Posted by Flamethrower at 10:57 PM on February 29


Here in CA the same problem. Yesterday I had to decipher what a lady was trying to say. (It happens often everyday when working with diverse publics.) She was trying to tell me someone was removing racks,rails,(rocks) from the hillside and putting them in a truck outside. I had her repeat 6x’s and still could not understand while she pointed to the hill outside. Finally another person helped out. The often mispronounced words and equally misunderstood communications result in no understanding at all. Is it any wonder there is no understanding of legal vs illegal? Many American concepts are unknown and not part of another foreign mindset.
It was English words and thought that brought about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It was many more years before other countries adopted those words/ideas.
Now, after more than 200 years, foreigners and immigrants have decided what USA had needs to be changed. Those changes manifested greatly in the last 60 years are manifested in todays’ Amercia. Sadly, children born now will never know what America was, but will know all about sex, race, and United Nations. V

Posted by Vickie at 12:55 AM on March 1


Perhaps the best way to lose an accent is to learn English WITH an accent. It does little good to learn correct English if you live in the South….ha ha. (That’s right, I am a Southerner and always have been.) Anyone in the South will tell you there are many terms and words (and pronunciations of those words) that are unique to the South. In fact, speaking Southern is not actually ONE LANGUAGE. Southern speakers in North Carolina are not the same as in Jawja or Arkansaw or Loosianne or Missoura. Anyone who cannot speak or understand the local idiom is going to have serious problems in the workplace. (I still have a problem with speakers from Mississippi.)

Posted by Memphomaniac at 1:16 PM on March 1


I can understand someone butchering English if it is not their native language.But the blacks I work with where all born and bred in America,and they speak something that I cannot even begin to accept as a “language” due to the fact that they cannot even understand each other.
Forget Ebonic’s,southern accent,slang,ect.,this undecipherable mush bends the boundries of “communication” into something more akin to “sound effects”.
For example,”I need a tow chain and some gas because I’m stuck and my truck won’t start.”,becomes “Inneh attowchen annswm gais b’cuhz ahmstuk ahnmmy truhh whonstah”.
I’ve spoken to mentaly retarded whites who spoke more clearly.

Posted by Driver at 1:26 PM on March 1



“People often associate a French accent with perfume and sophistication and a British accent with Shakespeare and literature. A Spanish accent has different connotations. They associate Spanish with the person who may be cutting your lawn or illegal immigrants,” Roca said. “There definitely are more stereotypes for people with a Spanish accent.”


And why do you suppose that might be, Senor Roca? Where do these stereotypes come from — out of thin air? Or are you one of those who professes that White people just MAKE UP all this mean stuff about latinos because our skin color makes us inherently evil?

Also, let’s not forget that most of these invaders don’t speak proper Spanish either — they’d never be understood in Madrid. As another poster here once said, “learning Spanish from a Mexican would be like learning English from a Detroit crack dealer.”

The various Euro/Indian/black mixed-blood creations from Latin America just not good with language(s), PERIOD. Speaking ANY sophisticated language correctly seems to require more intellectual inclinations and abilities than they possess. With IQIt’s just not in them.

Merely another racial reality, folks.

Posted by at 3:52 PM on March 1


After my recent 2-week stay in Ft Lauderdale, I found the only accents I had trouble with were the ones where the letter R is never spoken, every word is spoken with a grimace on one’s face, and the sound is like someone has a finger jammed permanently in their left nostril.

A variation of this, mostly by younger speakers of this dialect, is to throw in as many reproductive and excretory references as possible.

There is a name for this accent: New York Transplant.

And for you New Yorkers who take offense: I found New Yorkers IN New York to be a pretty good lot, and friendly. Surprisingly so.

Posted by the friendly grizzly at 6:37 PM on March 1


Posted by at 10:15 PM on February 29

““contractions pose the biggest challenge.”

I beg to differ, being an expert in trying to decipher broken English in a thick accent.

Two of the most difficult to understand words are shoes and sharp.


For example they say, “she looked charp in her new choose.””


I’ve constantly had problems with my Mexican cooks when it comes to discussing “Tuesday” and “Thursday”.
Apparently they have a very hard time pronouncing the “Th”, sound. I tell them “come in Thursday” and they say “yes, me come “TOO-ers-DAY”. We have to repeat back and forth several times to make sure they understand I am saying Thursday, Not Tuesday!

Diversity is Strength?

Posted by Formerly (James From NOLA) at 5:32 AM on March 2


Those who would give anything to be President of this country should be made to stand in front of nationwide TV and explain to us why we must accept criminals into our country, why they forgive them breaking in, using false documents, social security numes and fake names under the umbrella of, “they are only coming for jobs,” or Bush’s favorite, “to put food on the table?
These are felonies. Americans go to jail, illegals get rewarded.
Let them tell us why it is good to give citizenship to those who drink, drive and kill our people, why it’s good for us to foot the bills for their “anchor babies,” their children’s schooling, their emergency care and all sorts of benefits while they send their money home. If they can convince me that turning this beautiful nation into a third world country is “a good thing,” then they have my vote.

Posted by June at 8:38 AM on March 2


Curiously, my wife felt the need to learn English at her own expense before coming here. She’s still not so great with “L” and “TH” sounds, but the effect is minimal.

Posted by Michael C. Scott at 1:12 PM on March 3


If the United States was really serious about preserving it’s linguistic integrity it needs to do two things. Stop all immigration and adopt an English-language version of Quebec’s BILL 101. It won’t though. I saw a democratic party debate and when asked only ONE candidate agreed that English should even be the official language of the United States! You think Mexicans would ever say that Spanish shouldn’t be the official language of Mexico?

Posted by at 4:49 PM on March 3


“At least Ms. Santana has the gumption to study English and work for a living. It’s not her responsibility to guard our borders or make our immigration policy. She’ll end up a victim of White negligence just as much as the rest of us.”

Mizzz Santana studied English for six years in taxpayer-funded ESL classes and got (and will get to keep) her job courtesy of Affirmative Action, just like all the rest of ‘em. And there’s a BIG difference between “working” and “employed”. Just ask any White who has had to work with non-Whites. They work, the non-Whites mostly congregate in/clog up the hallways, gab on the phone, stuff their faces, kick it with the homeys, etc. “White negligence” my behind…

Posted by at 5:46 PM on March 4


“Many American concepts are unknown and not part of another foreign mindset.”

Which is why they should go home and stay there. This is precisely why they cannot assimilate into ANY White country.

Posted by at 5:49 PM on March 4


“If they can convince me that turning this beautiful nation into a third world country is “a good thing,” then they have my vote.”

Unfortunately, it is a sure thing that Clinton, Barack or McCain will be our next El Presedente’.

Which indeed means that turning this country into a third world country will be a democratic choice.

Posted by at 9:56 AM on March 5


I have no shame in asking to speak to an American. I am usually ill in having to call an establishment where I have to talk to these workers in the first place. I tell them that I don’t want to get rude and personal with them, so just give me someone who speaks undeniably good English.

Posted by at 12:44 AM on March 8



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