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On this episode of the EnglishLingQ podcast, Steve and Jill discuss listening to and becoming familiar with different accents. They also talk about some controversial issues, such as fur coats.
Steve: Hi Jill.
Jill: Hi Steve.
Steve: How are you today?
Jill: Good thanks, how are you?
Steve: Good, thank you.
Today, I want to talk about two subjects.
For the first few minutes let’s talk a little bit about accents because people have asked us should they copy or should they try to listen to different kinds of accents, which accents should they copy and so forth.
We can talk a bit about that and then we’ll see how much time we have left to talk about other subjects.
I see there was also a question here about “say”, “tell” and “speak”; we’ve done that before.
Jill: Yes, this is an old list.
Steve: Oh, it is an old list.
Jill: We’ve basically done everything.
Steve: Okay, alright, okay.
Accents, what do you think?
Say when you were studying French, did it matter to you whether the person spoke with an accent from northern France, southern France, Quebec?
How important was that to you?
Jill: I don’t think I realized.
We didn’t do a lot of listening.
Listening is not something that was really part of the curriculum.
Steve: You know, isn’t that true?
At LingQ we stress listening as just about the most important thing you can do, the easiest thing you can do.
Wherever you are you can listen to your MP3 Player, but in school we just sat there and looked at books.
Jill: Yeah and listened to a teacher giving us grammar rules.
Steve: And the teacher probably was not a native speaker.
Jill: Sometimes the teacher was and sometimes the teacher wasn’t.
Usually my French teachers, if they were native speakers, came from Quebec.
Jill: So they had more Quebecois accent as opposed to a French accent.
But now that I’ve listened to more accents and just have been exposed to more listening I realize that I do prefer — and I don’t mean to offend anybody — but I do prefer French accents from France.
Steve: Right, now even within France there are different accents.
Steve: But I think you’ve made a very important point there and that is that no matter which language we’re learning we will like some accents better than others.
In Spanish there’s a big difference between the Spanish spoken in Spain versus Mexico versus Argentina.
In English we have different accents in England and we have Australian and so forth.
In the United States, of course, there are regional differences too.
I know that when I studied different languages there would be certain speakers, certain narrators, certain voices that I liked.
I remember studying Mandarin, certain content I can listen to and I would listen to 50 times.
There were these two comedians; I loved the way they spoke.
I loved their accent.
I loved their intonation.
I liked the rhythm, everything about them, so I could listen over and over.
So, obviously, if I like them and I listen to them I will end up imitating.
Steve: So the more you can like a particular accent probably the easier it will be to imitate it.
I mean it’s up to you.
If you live in Quebec you’ll want to speak like all the people around you.
If you live in Australia you’ll want to speak like the others.
I don’t think there’s a matter of this accent is good, this accent is bad.
Jill: Yeah, I agree that you should just focus on one.
I mean just listen to what you like and if there is one you like in particular then maybe you do want to focus on that one.
But it’s not bad to also listen to content where, you know, somebody is speaking with a British accent and then something else and somebody’s got a Canadian accent.
I think it’s all good.
Steve: Well because, in a way, there are two issues, one is the issue of being able to understand.
I think it’s very good training as you become more advanced to listen to people who speak with different accents and even to listen to people who mumble.
I think you and I try to speak and pronounce quite clearly, but a lot of people don’t.
A lot of native speakers use their own language very poorly.
They don’t make sense even to other native speakers.
I’ve often been in situations where I’m interpreting for someone and I don’t understand what they’re saying in English.
Steve: That’s a bigger problem than translating into some other language.
When you get very good at the language you have no trouble with people who mumble.
You can even start to guess at what they’re trying to say.
You’re filling in the spaces that they haven’t filled in for you.
All of this kind of training I think is good, but insofar as your own accent is concerned, imitate the one you like and don’t be disappointed if you don’t achieve 100 percent success.
All the people I know who speak very well in different languages the fact that they have an accent has never bothered me.
Jill: No, no, me either.
Steve: On the other hand, you’ll sometimes hear someone speak English with a very almost like an American accent that they have imitated from somewhere, but they don’t speak well.
That almost disturbs me as a native speaker more then the person who speaks well…
Jill: …with an accent.
No, I don’t mind accents either.
Of course, you have to be able to understand the person.
If the accent is so strong that you can’t understand them even though they make good use of the vocabulary and the grammar then that’s a problem.
Steve: But, you know, that’s rarely the case.
Jill: Rarely, yeah.
Steve: People who use the grammar and the phrases and everything correctly, in other words, normal usage, normally their accent is understandable.
Steve: Okay, I think we’ve hit the accent thing.
You know, I would like to talk about another subject and that is sort of like environmentalism and the sort of extremist positions that people will take on an issue where they feel they are morally right.
This leads then to a lack of tolerance and a lack of willingness to have a discussion and to have a dialogue.
Jill: And a lack of understanding too.
They’re just completely closed off to even hearing about or learning about some of the other positions.
Steve: I mean there are many examples.
I mean we can go back 100 years ago to Russia because I’m reading about Russian history.
I mean there were like three or four thousand political assassinations every year.
These people, who were largely intellectuals, these were not poor workers by and large, felt so strongly about their political agenda, Marxism, which they eventually were able to introduce to Russia, they felt the ends justified the means.
They felt so right at whatever they were doing they’d kill, whatever, thousands, it didn’t matter.
Jill: They justified it to themselves by basically saying that we need to do whatever we need to do to achieve the end result that we’re looking for.
Steve: Well that’s right.
I mean it’s like the abortion issue, which is a very, very complex issue.
But one solution that is not a solution is to go shoot the doctors that run abortion clinics.
Jill: And blowup clinics.
Steve: That’s just not a solution.
Steve: Environmentalism suffers from the same fate.
This morning I was reading in the newspaper that David Suzuki, who is a very well-known Canadian environmentalist, felt that politicians who don’t implement climate change policies should be put in jail.
In other words, we’re not going to discuss this issue anymore, we have decided what has to be done.
Any politicians that don’t implement these policies should be put in jail.
It’s nice of him that he didn’t suggest they be shot, you know?
But at that point, I mean, global warming is such a complex issue.
Even if you accept the fact that humans are responsible for a lot of this sort of man-made carbon dioxide, etc., etc., what is the relative cost of doing A versus B versus C?
Are we going to save more lives by improving the water quality in the third world or are we going to save more lives by doing something else?
I mean all of these things have to be discussed in a logical way.
It’s like what happened over DDT.
They banned DDT because someone wrote a book called The Silent Spring and, apparently, it has caused millions of people in the third world to die from malaria for no benefit and there are many, many examples.
Jill: DDT was a strong chemical used, right?
Steve: DDT was an insecticide, which was used to kill the mosquitoes, amongst other things, but it helped to control the population of mosquitoes that were causing malaria.
A lady called Rachel somebody wrote a book called The Silent Spring implying that birds were dying by the millions because of the use of DDT.
It turns out that that was not true.
It turns out that DDT is relatively benign.
But what has turned out to be very much true is that millions of people have, since the banning of DDT, died from malaria not in the United States where this lady wrote her book, but in Africa and other places.
Jill: Yeah, of course, yeah.
Steve: I think one has to be very careful, complex issues are complex.
Jill: And there’s not usually a simple solution that can just happen overnight.
Steve: And we live, for the most part, in societies where we are allowed to have a dialogue, we’re allowed to talk and we’re allowed to vote.
Yes, you can say well, you know, the corporate world has this and that power, which they do, but other groups and organizations and individuals also have power.
I mean the solution to my mind is not this, you know, unilateralism.
Like the animal rights people, you know?
Anyway, one of my favorite is furs.
I think furs are great.
I think fur is a very environmentally benign type of clothing and it’s one that mankind has been using since the beginning.
It is more environmentally benign than cotton, which is grown in these huge monocultural plantations, is more environmentally benign than petrochemical derivatives where we’re going underneath the ground to bring up material that’s been lying there for millions of years, as long as it’s done in a sustainable way, which is largely the case with fur.
Jill: And people aren’t killing endangered animals for their fur.
Steve: There’s not too many, but first of all Jill, you’ve got to argue with me.
You’ve got to say no, no, no, it’s not nice to kill those sweet little animals!
Jill: Well, I do think that. I’m not big on fur.
Steve: Good, you won an argument.
Jill: I don’t think I’d wear real fur, but I do think there’s a use for it.
I think people that live in very cold climates who have always used fur to keep warm and animal hide.
The Inuits still in Canada…
Steve: Oh no, no, no, but that’s not the point though Jill.
Those people and the people in northern Canada, natives, they trap the animals in order to sell it to New York and Paris and London and Moscow and that’s where the market is for fur.
Fur, in terms of an environmental product, is very environmental.
I mean I think the trouble with fur is it’s a bit like the forest industry.
Oh the poor tree got cut down.
Oh the poor little animal got killed.
But do you eat chicken?
Steve: Do you eat beef?
Steve: Yeah, you eat fish?
I mean that’s just the way life is.
You know, I’ll tell a little story.
My wife and I were watching a hockey game in the United States where Mark was playing hockey for Yale University.
We were at some university in New York State or Massachusetts or somewhere, I can’t remember where, and Carmen my wife had on a fur coat, which we’ve had for like 20 years; it was cold.
These students were there and they were making comments about Carmen’s fur coat.
So Carmen turns to them and says “Oh yeah, do you eat meat?” And so the student says “No I don’t.” Carmen says “You’re a liar and that’s why you’re so fat!” Anyway…
Jill: Yeah, I don’t know.
I mean I do buy free-range and organic meat because I don’t like how animals are treated, the animals that we do eat, so I do want chickens to be roaming around.
I do care about animals, so I wouldn’t wear fur.
Steve: But the fur, at least where they trap them up north, they’re roaming around.
Steve: Until they get caught in a trap.
Jill: Yeah and people who need…I agree.
Like you live in climates like New York and you see a lot of people walking around there in fur coats because it’s the warmest thing you can wear.
Steve: Yeah, but people don’t wear them because they’re warm.
You can get a padded cotton quilted jacket.
Jill: Some people wear them because they’re warm.
I know people who have them because they’re warm and also because they like them.
I don’t think you can say you’re only allowed to buy this if you get a certificate from the doctor saying that you get the chills.
So, anyway, we’ve kind of hit that one for a while, any more comments on that?
That’s okay Jill, so you go and demonstrate?
Jill: No, I don’t really take that strong of a position on anything.
I’m sort of in the middle of most things so, no, I wouldn’t go and spray paint people.
Actually when I was in New York there was a demonstration against fur on the street.
I think it happens probably all the time there.
Jill: Quite a few people standing around and chanting with their signs and their posters.
Personally, I don’t like fur, I wouldn’t buy it, but I’m not going to say that you’re a horrible evil person if you choose to have it.
Steve: So, you have your opinions, which you’re entitled to, but you’re respectful of other people’s opinions.
Jill: That’s right.
Steve: Good. I think that’s a good note to end our talk on.
Jill: Alright, bye-bye.
Steve: Thanks Jill, bye-bye.