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How Locals Perceive a Foreign Accent in Spanish

Foreign Accent in Spanish

Before reading this, check out my related post Jared, You Speak So Well.

For several years it has surprised and intrigued me every time I receive a comment that my Spanish has improved significantly. The truth is it has not improved. For at least 10 years my Spanish has been sufficiently fluent that almost no one can detect whether it improves or not. My vocabulary continues to improve slightly as does my pronunciation for specific words, but I guarantee almost no one notices any difference. Only laboratory tests would be able to detect any noticeable improvements in my Spanish fluency.

And yet I still hear the phrase “Your Spanish is So Much Better Now.” This always perplexed me.

Until recently when I met Cristi Hoppe. Cristi is a native Mexican Spanish speaker, raised by two Mexican parents in the United States. She and her husband Chris have now lived in Puerto Rico for three years, running this wonderful micro-brew pub in Old San Juan called Taberna Lúpulo (that’s hops in Spanish). Over drinks one day, Cristi and I got onto the topic of our experiences with Spanish and particularly in Puerto Rico.

The two of us compared experiences with being complemented on our Spanish. Now mind you Cristi is a NATIVE Spanish speaker, so her Spanish improving enough that anyone could notice is almost impossible. Yet, she too has recently been complemented on how much better she speaks Spanish, than when she arrived to Puerto Rico 3 years ago. The similarity of her experience with mine finally gave me the answer to why people say our Spanish has improved. It seems obvious now, but until talking with Cristi I could never figure it out.

The obvious answer is that our Spanish became more Puerto Rican.

This is why people commented on how much our Spanish improved. Simply because it became closer to what locals are comfortable hearing. In my case, I use more Puerto Rican vocabulary now than in the past. And my intonation in Spanish is closer to Puerto Rican Spanish than the day I arrived.

Conversely, when I visit with my friends in Argentina and Chile, they tell me that my Spanish is worse. What they really mean to say is that my Spanish is not as close to their version of Spanish as it used to be.

Have you had any experience with others noticing your Spanish is better or worse, only because it is more or less similar to their Spanish?

Check out these other articles about How to Speak Spanish.

Featured photo credit: Challenge #4 Open Mouth by Pawns via flickr

  • MargaretNahmias

    I never heard of that happening in English nor do I think about people with diferent English accents. Maybe it just demonstrates a bias among Spansh speakers for their own local accents.

  • AJ

    Nope, happens with native English speakers too. My mother is from Hawaii, born and raised. She’s lived here on the “main land” for over 20 years. She lapses into a Hawaiian accent everytime she’s on the phone with someone from Hawaii. After a week or longer in Hawaii visiting relatives, she comes home speaking with that accent for a few days. But most of the time, she sounds pretty much like any other person living in Arizona.

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