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Spanish: Ode to Accents

Spanish: Ode to Accents

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Spanish Accents – Ode to Accents and Subtitles: Spending time in the great white north, otherwise known as New York, has made me revisit my love affair with accents.  Maybe it’s because I am an immigrant, and have lived my whole life surrounded by people with accents. Or maybe it’s a biological phenomenon based on the expansion of our gene pool.  Either way, I love the sound of an accent.

“Subtitles are your Friend” 

In reality, most of us are affected by the sound of an accent. A French accent is commonly considered sexy, while your reaction to a British accent might reflect how you feel about the people or place of origin. Whether we love or hate certain accents seems to depend a lot on history, and perhaps cultural xenophobia — a fear of foreign people. In countries like Canada and the United States, negative connotations about accents may originate with our forefathers or current politicians. I’ve been aware of feelings that seem to come automatically when someone speaks with an accent, whether it comes across as not intelligent or all warm and tingly.

When learning a second language, accents and dialects create an added dimension of daunting unto themselves. Spanish has numerous dialects, just like there are American, Australian, British and Canadian versions of English. Each of those places on the world map is subdivided into towns and groups of people with their very own sound. I need subtitles for “Duck Dynasty” just as much as I do for British television shows, and certainly for Mexican Spanish. Important note: Subtitles are your friend! They can seriously diminish your fear of foreign sounds.    

One of my favorite things about living in the Tamarindo area is the sound of accents. We have collections of people from all over the world, each bringing to us a new way of hearing English and Spanish. We must be flexible and open to thrive in this mini-Tower of Babel. We must allow language to flow and move, never holding it down or looking for the right way to say it. There is no “right” way … just “a” way.

The same goes for each individual area of Latin America. I don’t understand everything that everyone with a different dialect says to me. I make lots of guesses and try to expand my vocabulary.

You can get the gist of what people are saying regardless of the language being spoken. It comes from context clues, body language and stabs in the dark. People who are talented at learning multiple languages have this ability — getting the gist of what’s being said and then repeating the sounds in childish wonder. Childish wonder seems to play a big part in adults being able to learn quickly.

Language is a celebration of who we are and an accent is a map to where we come from. Go out there yourself … have an accent and be tickled listening to who people are and where they come from. Listen, repeat and delight in your clumsy tongue trying to wrap itself around new sounds. Don’t stop at Spanish. Try out Italian, French, German or any of the many other cultures that have found a home locally. Stop being afraid of what you don’t understand, and you may find yourself understanding a lot more than you thought.

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