By Atlas Al
When I first met Magnanimous, I thought he was Irish. Not only did he speak with a perfect Irish Accent (at least to my American ears), he used idioms and phrases unique only to Ireland. To me, he passed as an Irishman and I thought nothing of it.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at an Irish pub and saw an Irish band jam with three Irish step dancers (think Riverdance). They, too, spoke with an Irish Accent. But when one of the band members asked where one of the step dancers was from while pointing at a map of Ireland, she said in perfect Irish, “I’m Norwegian.”
It turned out Magnanimous was Norwegian, but has an Irish father, and the “Irish” step dancers were Norwegians as well, but took step dancing classes in Norway and in Ireland. Most likely they’d spot these two immediately in Ireland and ask where they were from.
Even though I consider myself pretty good at detecting foreign accents, I hear regional accents better from my own country, and of course Canadians when they use certain accented words like “eh”, “out”, and “about.”
Australians are able to hear a New Zealander’s accent and vice versa while those with untrained ears have to ask, “Are you Australian,” only to be made firmly aware of the fact they were from New Zealand. Same goes for people asking, “Where are you from in the states,” only to be told they’re Canadian. If it’s difficult to distinguish between an American and a Canadian or an Australian and New Zealander, imagine the difficulty trying to decipher more complex accents.
The people best at uncovering accents are the ones who speak the language as their mother tongue. My dad has a heavy French accent, so heavy that to the untrained ear you could mistake his accented English as French. Even if a Frenchman spoke perfect English with an American accent, he’ll slip on certain words and a native speaker of American English will pick up on it.
American movies, television, and music is consumed the world over. Many international schools teach in American English and many foreign students come to the United States to study abroad in high schools and universities. The higher education system in the USA is commonly accepted as one of the best in the world with education being one of its major exports.
Since American English is the accent franca for many foreigners, Americans are better at picking up on someone’s accent – when speaking American English – than non-Americans. For this reason, we should pay attention to foreigners who speak in a perfect or near perfect non-American English accent. You might mistake them for the wrong flag.
[Never assume that the accent a person has is where they come from. For flag status confirmation at the get-go of any convo, refer to Five Ways to Spot a Flagger.]