You know how sometimes when travelling, upon opening your mouth and ordering your food in language X, the waiter looks at you for a while and then proceeds to ask "Where are you from?" or "That's a funny accent, where did you get it?" Well how about when that happens every day?

English and I have been happily married for the past 2 years - it easily deserves the status of my primary language of communication. To anyone who has ever wondered how often I speak Finnish in my everyday life, the answer is never. I somehow never end up skyping with my friends or family, so six months can easily pass without me saying even a word in Finnish out loud (excluding all those awkward moments when a foreign friend wants me to demonstrate how it sounds like, in which case I usually say "hääyöaie" and watch their smile instantly melt away). But as someone who spent her youth watching American TV shows, pursued an exchange semester in the UK, worked for a year in Canada and then studied in Ireland, my English accent is nothing but consistent.

I'm a sponge. A linguistic sponge. I sound like the mutilated lovechild of all my previous homes, and even places that have never been my home (looking at you, USA), and there's nothing more simultaneously entertaining and uncomfortable than a native English-speaker trying to figure where this monstrosity comes from.

So now that I'm back at living in an English-speaking country, I've taken some time to think whether or not I should try and pursue the local accent. Some influence is inevitable, for sure. I already find myself pronouncing certain words with an Irish twist, and the rhythm of my intonation is really going through some growing pains (almost literally - I sound like a teenage boy trying to gain control over their own voice). However, I feel kind of embarrassed of trying to use local words - in Ireland, things are always just grand or just a wee bit weird. Is it too self-righteous to try and sound like an Irish?

There are, of course, some traits of the Irish accent I find hard to mimic:
  1. Firstly, the R. For my entire life I've comfortably used the classic British, non-existent R, but suddenly I'm supposed to pronounce them? No effin' way. The worst part is it isn't even like the American soft R - it's something in-between the rolling R and the American R. How on earth do you make that sound?
  2. Th. That sound. when you hear an Irish person say "that", you know what I mean. It's like their tongue is stuffed somewhere deep in their throat in the beginning, and then it just kind of emerges like a spring of some kind from the depth of the Irish mouth, and makes this super deep and sharp gzth. Jesus. I don't even know how to describe that.
  3. Sometimes the letter E is O, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes U is E, but sometimes it's not. Depending on the accent, I think all Irish have a different interpretation on how to say these letters.
  4. The Irish don't pronounce the G at the end of verbs. I'm gettin' a wee bit frustrated with this one. ("one" of course pronounced as something that sounds pretty much like "wune"...)
I love Irish English, and sincerely wanted to believe it would naturally grow on me after a while. Seems like that's not going to happen without some effort after all. I wonder what's different? In the UK it took me two weeks to catch up on the Midlands dialect, but now, after half a year in the Emerald Isle, I still sound like a weird mixture of French-Canadian, Finnish and God knows what else.

Is the accent even important? Should I just go with the flow and let my hybrid English get loose? Getting understood is, above all, the most important thing when speaking a second language - right?

Do you think it's important to adopt local dialects? Or does it come out as a bit pretentious? Should non-native speakers always strive for the local accent? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Hi Melissa,

    Accent is somewhat important when you travel to help you hosts understand you. I have the perfect example in French. Two summers ago, I went to the south of France with my fiancé and my step family. I know I have a Quebec french accent, it being my native language. But still, I understood all kind of french Europeans with their funny French accents. Why wouldn't hey understand me? I was SO wrong. I spoke to them in French, and the ended up answering in English. I never wanted to swear more in my life then the time that I was in France. I often traveled to the states or the rest of Canada and they always understood me speaking English. But it seems that in France, I had to mimic their accent in order to be understood.

    One redeeming city: Marseille. They already have an accent according to the rest of France, and it is much closer to what you would hear here in Québec. We had lots of fun talking to some marseillais, as they were calling us «far away cousins».

    I think that in some countries, people appreciate the effort you may put in learning the local dialect. I know that it took sometime for me to adjust from my Canadian English to Irish English (especially understanding words that I wasn't familiar with, like the bust driver that kept calling me «cheeky», and I had no Idea of what it meant.)

    I hope we get to see each other this summer when we visit the UK :)


    1. Hi Roxanne! What an experience you had in France! It's really hard for me to imagine how that must be like, since Finnish is not an official language of any other country than Finland - and even if we have multiple varying dialects, no one has ever tried to speak to me in English. :D It must feel really weird. I guess some people are more prone to see their own accent as the "right one", maybe that's why they thought it's not your first language?

      I think you're right, usually locals appreciate if you try to learn their ways of speaking. I feel like it's the case in Ireland at least: while living in the UK, I never got asked about my accent as much as I get now that I live in Ireland. The adjustment just really takes some time - and like you said, the Irish have a bunch of words I've never heard before!

      That's great news! I really hope we'll have a chance to meet there and catch up! :) Let us know when you'll be around.

  2. Although I think there is a benefit in speaking with the local accent, I think it is only beneficial to the extent that people can understand you. I don't believe you can end up truly speaking as they do (of course they have had a lifetime to pick it up) and it ends up being a hybrid which inevitably leads to the questions of "where are you from".

    nat // dignifiable

    1. I agree. I don't think copying local accents should be a merit in itself, although it helps you to blend in and feel part of the community. I had this Russian flatmate once when I still lived in Finland - I never realised she's not a native Finnish-speaker until she told me she's from St. Petersburg. 5 years in Finland and she had a perfect Finnish accent! I always look up to her and tell myself if she could do it, maybe I can too. :)