Just kidding, it doesn’t.
Unfortunately a lot of people seem to think that a foreign accent makes you sound elitist or pompous.
For what ever reason there is a certain stereotype surrounding the speaking of foreign languages – particularly the French language- that causes monolinguals (I use that term to represent the population that is generally disinterested or even adverse to language learning) to be consumed with animosity.
Is it possible that centuries old social castes are still impacting the perception of the French language among English speaking countries, or perhaps more recent history can offer reasons for our seeming disdain of something as silly as an accent?
Historically French was the language of the medieval English nobility, the language of the educated; the movers and the shakers and the kings. The peasant folk on the other hand were left speaking Old English or another native Celtic or Germanic language.
Signs of this disparity can still be seen today in English – many of our longer, more eloquent words (including the word eloquent) are of French origin while shorter, more vulgar words (many choice four letter words, for instance) can be attributed to the languages of the commoners.
My French is horrible. I can read basic articles without too much difficulty but if you ask me to speak it I know barely enough to survive – and awkwardly at that – but one thing I’ve always excelled at in my language learning projects has been pronunciation.
Or at least I think so.
Any time I read anything in French out loud, or pronounce a French word – or any other language I’ve studied for that matter – I attempt to pronounce it properly.
And yes, some people will make fun of you if your French comes out sounding, well, French.
When our friends or someone else we know asks us to say or read something or recite a word of foreign origins it becomes a lose/lose situation in which we are criticized for either not really speaking the language, or are labeled as sounding pretentious for saying it the way it’s supposed to be said.
What so many critical monolinguals seem to be failing to recognize is that accents and pronunciation with a foreign language go hand in hand. While there may be different accents of a given language, “saying it the way the French do” is part of saying it properly! So what gives? Why do we have such a problem with foreign languages that we have to hear them pronounced using exclusively familiar phonemes? Are we intimidated by our own inability to recreate these sounds?
Pronouncing foreign words using your own native language’s phonemes makes them sound utterly ridiculous.
But that’s not a problem for those who find your French accent pretentious, your Spanish fake or your Russian, Japanese or Arabic accents silly. They often seem more concerned with defending their monolingualism from your bilingualism in the only way that someone without real ammunition can – by hurling insults and creating stereotypes.
It doesn’t help that many anglophone attitudes towards France, Quebec, and the people who live there are often laced with equally ridiculous stereotypes that only serve to promote the idea that the language – and everything from berets to bleu cheese are also pretentious.
Unfortunately, other than telling them off, there isn’t an awful lot you can do except try to explain to such individuals how language works.
But most often it’s probably just best to save your breath and forget it.
Is this a phenomenon that you’ve noticed as well? I imagine similar issues arise in non-anglophone regions in regard to other languages.
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