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What's that again? Speaking English!

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I have the same experience speaking with people in France. I learned the Parisian accent, which is also the predominant accent in the national media (radio and TV). But when I'm in the south of France I have a lot of trouble understanding the people, and they have trouble understanding me. It's worst in Montpellier or Marseille. And it can also be bad with French Canadians, because there is a ton of slang there that is independent of France. Also, the French Canadian accent seems to me to be more influenced by English, although a French Canadian will strike you down if you say that.

Netflix carries a number of British television shows that seem to be based in areas with strong regional accents, and many times it's virtually impossible for me to figure out what the characters are saying to each other.


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I got a new Roku for Christmas and now can get Netflix with subtitle. Otherwise, I can't watch the Brit shows at all!


I'm going to have to look into that. Right now we get Netflix through the Blu-Ray player, and I have never seen any capability for subtitles.


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Good luck with Roku and Netflix subtitles. Very often they're not producer-supplied but rather something that's farmed out by the streaming service and seem to be done by Joe and Jane Nobodies who obviously just listen and transcribe what they think they hear. Worse for UK shows because the subtitlers show themselves to be pretty unfamiliar with commonplace UK idioms, word usage and reasonably well-known individuals and place names. Not unusual to see "speaking indistinctly" or "unintelligible" when they've just thrown up their hands. Even worse are frequent instances when misinterpretations completely change meanings. Poirot episodes, for exmple, rarely go for more than a minute or so without a head-slapping foul-up, or at worst instances that totally reverse what's actually being said. Honestly, I often have to wonder how people who have to rely 100% on the subtitles can figure out what the heck is going on. And all this is for reasonably standard stage or acting British English, not dialect. Of course, some subtitles are "official," and then you're lucky. If you're like me and like to use subtitles to help deal with unfamiliar accents, actor mumbling and sound effects overkill, you'll quickly notice if you show is one with the "whatever" variety of subtitles. I have to admit, sometimes they're kind of amusing in their bone-headedness.

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As a Brit myself, I was interested in this Youtube clip. I didn't have any trouble understanding what she said, because my ears are tuned to the various regional accents here, but she didn't attempt the more extreme versions - Newcastle, the broad Geordie accent, is well known to be pretty impenetrable.

It surprises foreigners that we have so many regional dialects here, but in fact we have many more than the clip implies. Here in the Westcountry there is a very different accent in rural Somerset than the one spoken in the city of Bristol, for instance. And dozens of regions she didn't mention, Kent for instance. And she will have annoyed Londoners - there are a lot of clearly different accents spoken in different parts of London. Traditionally, Cockney is central London - you can only claim to be a true Cockney if you were born within the sound of Bow Bells (the bells of a parish church there). Then there's Estuarine English, Essex, Norf Lunn'on, Sarf Lunn'on, East End, and the much posher West End. And a lot of minor variants on these that the locals can distinguish.

Like everywhere, improved communications and travel have meant that the clearly defined and very broad regional accents of a hundred years ago are fading and mixing down and will no doubt eventually become one grey homogeneous gloop. Here in the Westcountry the older generation speak broad Somerset, their children speak a strange mix of Somerset, London, and received pronunciation, and their children speak standard English. It's a remarkably quick change after so many hundreds of years of stasis.

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I had no problem understanding 90% of the accents she used and I give her points for being able to switch up like that since mimicry is a learned skill. Language adapts regionally and as long as the residents understand one another it may slide further away from the original state and that is probably more evident in written form.

America has it's share of regional accents. Some places in the Carolinas have a distinct Scottish lilt carried over from European ancestors. The further south you go the more adapted the language although in Georgia it still sounds like English but at such a slow pace it seems to take hours for a conversation. I love all the variations, try to incorporate some of the unique sounds in story dialogue, but since clarity is desired perhaps not as much as I would like.

I would be hard pressed to identify these regional language variations if I met English speakers from across Britain. It does seem a curiosity that there are so many local variations just in small areas of London but it is definitely there. Just spending a day in New York City would probably give me the same feelings.

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she didn't attempt the more extreme versions - Newcastle, the broad Geordie accent, is well known to be pretty impenetrable.

Indeed, one of the Britidh TV series I had in mind was George Gently, which is set in or near Newcastle. Martin Shaw I can generally understand but the others are often a challenge.


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I've heard it said, when my ears still worked, that the way you tell if two supposed Glaswegians are genuine is to put them together and see if they understand each other. If they don't, they're real Glaswegians.

The worst though I've ever hit was in Liverpool. I've no problem with nearly all people from there, but I met a group of unemployed young men who were frankly, unintelligible. They were not putting it on, and they were genuinely trying to communicate. I would not be surprised if 20 years later, none of them has held a job other than perhaps a few weeks of labouring. Very odd place, must be one of the poorest I've been to, and one lady even invited me to lunch - I made up a fictitious appointment so that I could politely refuse.

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It's not the various dialects of Britain that I have trouble with, it's the telemarketers from the Asian countries that befuddles me.

I have found that they terminate the call if I say to them,

"You want to do, what, to me?"

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