Sunday, April 14, 2013

Varieties of English: They Speak English But Can You Understand Them?

Bob Marley
Bob Marley (Photo credit: nyoin)
by Larry M. Lynch

Varieties of English in Movies

"Can you put the subtitles on in English?"
"Why? The movie is in English."
"I don't understand that kind of English"
"Oh right, they have British and Irish accents in this movie."

We turned the English subtitles on in English and that seemed to help her a lot. There were idioms and expressions and a slew of vocabulary which got explained along the way, but the problem was a common one.

Accustomed to American English, other varieties of English soon caused listening comprehension problems. Both the English and Spanish languages, like flowers and fruit, horses and dogs, or fish in the sea, come in different varieties.

Be Aware of Regional and National Accents in English

When using movies, TV programs and recorded music for foreign language learning, you should be aware of national, regional or ethnic accents which might be spoken.

In most English-speaking countries, even in the United States for example, spoken English is generally not the same among different regions of the country, nor within different ethnic or cultural groups.

Black Americans in Atlanta do not speak English the same as Indigenous residents of the Mid-West, who in turn sound very little like Caucasians in New England area of the northeast.

Change venues to the southwest as in Texas or Louisiana and you'll quickly note the difference between their speech and that of Mid-Atlantic regional residents like those around Washington, D.C.

English Pronunciation Differences

Differences in regional and national pronunciation can also be illustrated by celebrities hailing from unique regions of a country or different countries.

Certainly you've heard the late, great Bob Marley sing, but have you ever heard him talk? How about other well-know personalities worldwide, whose spoken language is or was English?

The late Princess Diana sounded nothing like former U.S. President John F. Kennedy who in turn was quite distinct in speech from former President George W. Bush, due to their regional origins.

How about Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Mahatma Gandhi or Albert Einstein? Additional examples of distinctive English speech and accents include Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Aretha Franklin, Idi Amin, Miriam Makeba and Margaret Thatcher.

The list could go on but you get the idea. All speak English but have widely differing accents and speech in English.

Computer English Varieties

Check your computer and you'll quickly see that a number of varieties of English exist side-by-side. Varieties of English often noted on PCs and laptop computers can include, among others:

- Australia
- Belize
- Canada
- India
- Jamaica
- Malaysia
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- The Philippines
- South Africa
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Zimbabwe

Listening Practice with Varieties of English

To really get a good idea of just how distinct the different varieties of English can be, try going to your favorite search engine to find and listen to a few. Better yet, on YouTube, you can find videos of many celebrities whose language is English and listen to them speak for yourself.

A few good choices were named above and you can probably find a sample video of each of them during an online video search. More than a few noted actors would surprise you as they are known for speaking one type of English in their popular roles, but in their personal life speak in an entirely different variety of English.

Like who, you ask? Well, how about Hugh Laurie (Dr. House), Sean Connery (James Bond), Pierce Brosnan, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean Reno, or pop singer Celine Dion, to start with just a few.

English Varieties Worldwide

Finally, for an even more unique twist in colloquial English speech demonstrating varieties of English, try watching a Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican or an India Bollywood-produced movie available online or on a DVD. The accents, tones and language rhythms will definitely surprise you. They speak English but can you understand them? Have fun!

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