Difficult time understanding Indian accents

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#1 Sep 7th, 2007, 10:16
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#1
Is it just me? Am I partially deaf? It's been a little over a month and I still have trouble understanding Indians when they speak English. I feel bad b/c I have them repeat over and over ... other times I pretend I know what they're saying and nod politely.

How do you deal? Will I ever get the hang of it? I'm going to be here for a year.
Last edited by machadinha; Sep 18th, 2007 at 00:57.. Reason: adjusted title
#2 Sep 7th, 2007, 10:23
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#2
The problem is that even in India people have vernacular accents when they speak English. every region would gave a difference. But there would be few who have a neutral accent and would be very easily understandable...

In a city like Bangalore, it would be an amalgamation of accents from around the country because professionals from every region work over there..

You will get a hand of accent of people you spend most time with, however to get used to all of them would need a very long time..
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#3 Sep 7th, 2007, 10:37
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I get a kick out of BBC & CNN when they put feel obliged to put subtitles on the screen when Indians are being interviewed in English. For some reason I can understand their(Indians) english alot better than some of the rural UK, American, and even local Canadian accents. Everybody interprets a little differently though, keep trying and don't let that famous head wobble throw off your concentration!
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#4 Sep 7th, 2007, 11:41
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#4
Its possible that the Indians you are talking to are having the same problem.

Asking them to repeat what they say would not be considered impolite, btw.

Spoken English varies so much throughtout the country, usage and accent and colloquialisms included.
#5 Sep 7th, 2007, 13:01
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#5
When I went to work in the US some years back, my client also had another person from Mexico working for her. He had been working with her for about 5 years, but she still had a difficult time understanding him. But I was able to understand him perfectly from day one. She was astounded
#6 Sep 7th, 2007, 13:39
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I find when Indians speak English better than the Irish. I could never understand what an Irishman is saying. I have one Irish friend and when I first met him, it took me 2 weeks to understand. Maybe you just need to hang on a bit more.
#7 Sep 8th, 2007, 00:27
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Originally Posted by New-South-Welshman View Post I find when Indians speak English better than the Irish. I could never understand what an Irishman is saying.
When I was in Scotland, I had to ask the sales clerk to repeat whet she was saying. She finally asked me, "Do you speak english?" I replied that it was the only language that I spoke.

In India, sometimes it not the accent but the structure of sentences and analogies used that can be confusing. American english is not any better -- http://www.usatoday.com/money/workpl...l-jargon_N.htm
#8 Sep 8th, 2007, 01:37
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#8

watch indian english movies-

good way for me to get accustomed to different accents is to either spend time around people of that community (which is how i picked up spanish - both puerto rican and venezuelan dialects) or if this is not possible, get a few movies that feature people of these communities and listen carefully. am presently trying to pick up the tones of chinese and this is how i'm learning - it takes time, but it really makes a difference and for me, within about two weeks, i find that i am much more tuned to the inflections and pecularities of the particular vernacular.

some suggestions for indian english movies: the namesake, bend it like beckam, east is east, bombay talkie.

that's from newer to older in terms of movie chronology btw - enjoy and good luck!
#9 Sep 8th, 2007, 02:04
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#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by New-South-Welshman View Post I find when Indians speak English better than the Irish. I could never understand what an Irishman is saying. I have one Irish friend and when I first met him, it took me 2 weeks to understand. Maybe you just need to hang on a bit more.
You may find the accent troublesome, but I was once told by a teacher that even a badly-educated Irishman has a better grasp of English grammar than most English people do.

Australians, now... I just want to know how they managed to discover five totally different vowels?
#10 Sep 8th, 2007, 02:22
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#10
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Originally Posted by bklyn2bangalore View Post Is it just me? Am I partially deaf? It's been a little over a month and I still have trouble understanding Indians when they speak English. I feel bad b/c I have them repeat over and over ... other times I pretend I know what they're saying and nod politely.

How do you deal? Will I ever get the hang of it? I'm going to be here for a year.
it's hard to say for certain whether it will get better, but i'd hazard the optimistic guess that it will. unlike you, i really do have a hearing impairment, so i know from whence you speak. i can often navigate my way through the liguistic thicket of accents with which i am familiar, but any indian-accented english, whether tamil, hindi, bengali, or something else, is simply indeciperable to me.

as peak points out, some broadcasters (my beloved PBS in the US included), will more often provide captions for indian- or pakistani-accented english, for example. by contrast, i don't take issue with it, both because i tend to need captions anyway, and because american- and british-english speakers will often struggle more. but that's not so surprising. there's everything and nothing unique about indian-accented english; everything if your native language has a markedly different cadence, nothing if it doesn't (or you just happend to be good with such things).

even though not all indian speakers sound alike, the hundreds of dialects are more similar to one another than they are to english, or even to an accent to which you may be more accustomed. for this reason, the cap'n notes, they may have trouble with your accent, too! there was a wonderful documentary i saw called "do you speak american?" about how very different american dialects are from one another.

as a relatively new arrival to another culture, with myriad sub-cultures of nuanced intonation, cadence, stress, phonetics, facial gestures, hand gestures, head-wobbles...well, people often might just as well be speaking another language entirely.

when i was losing my hearing, i took "speech-reading" classes, where the speaker's voice would become softer and softer and softer, so i had to rely more and more heavily on visual clues. (it's not really "lip-reading"--that's a misnomer.) we all "speech read" every day; we just aren't always aware of how much, and different people (hearing-impaired people among them) use it to varying degrees.

there's also the issue of anticipation of what a speaker might say. if you pass a neighbor on the street in the morning, you've already narrowed the universe of possible greetings/responses. you'll be "primed" to hear any number of things, probably variations on "good morning" (e.g., 'morning, g'morning, nice one today, huh?, how ya doin"?) in other words, you know automatically what to "listen for". chances are that your neighbor probably won't be saying "can i borrow your lug-wrench?" or "have i mentioned that i love charlie rose?"

anticipation also plays a role in cadence. i was at a party the other night and a friend arrived with a man i'd never met. i could not understand a single word he said. my friend has a heavy spanish accent, and i know this, so i "expect: her cadence and stress to be different from my american friends'. but this guy might just as well have been speaking russian for all i heard. a little later, i finally caught some of what he said and suddenly realized that he was an aussie. after that, i understood everything he said because i was anticipating australian english, not british english or american english.

another thing is that some languages contain sounds that others don't. studies have shown that, if a given sound does not exist in our native language, we lose the ability to hear it early childhood and, by about 18, everything is pretty much calcified in our brains' language-centers. that's why it's harder to learn new languages when we're older.

to relieve the monotony of lawyering, i teach english to speakers of other languages. if all of my students have the same accent, i can follow them once i adjust to the cadence and can anticipate the sound. if it's a mixed class, say, for example, with a UN class i had, where everyone hailed from a different corner of the globe, i was clueless. and when i teach pronunciation, i know that my japanese and korean students will have trouble with the "r" sound. when i cover my mouth and ask them whether i said "peel" or "peer" -- they honestly don't know because they truly cannot hear the "r". with training--and also showing them the complex lip and tongue positions characterisitc of the "r" sound--it gets better, but much less so for older speakers.

all this, then, just to say that there's a lot going on when you're trying to decipher your new friends and acquaintances, so don't be hard on yourself. as the cap'n pointed out, it's not impolite to ask for repetition, although i know that, after the fith time, it's embarrassing to still not get it, so i understand faking it!

i absolutely believe that it will get better. nonetheless, i can truly empathize with you while you're still struggling.

i surmise that it will get better, but the more explosure you have, the better, say, with television, movies, and radio, as others have suggested. (it's basic audiotherapy, exactly what is used for hearing-impaired folks.) you might also try watching other people interact, even if you can't hear them, just to see if you can start homing in on some visual-only clues. these vary markedly from sub-culture to sub-culture, but you'll start getting more attuned to facial expression and gestures common to your new community.

hang in there, get as much listening practice as you can, and let us know how things are going.
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#11 Sep 8th, 2007, 03:05
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#11
I had a friend at college who was an excellent lip reader, even though he had good hearing. He once said to me, as a bus went past, of one of the passengers, did you see what he said?!.

We used to sit in a room overlooking the college principle's office. He was good at reading upside too, and, having seen some conversation, would find some excuse to go see the principle to check out the papers on his desk.

Nobody ever knew how the inside information we got was so good. Some assumed it was because a third friend's father was in the staff --- but even he would get information from us.

Of course, it all came to an end when we moved into a new building!

Now that my hearing is really failing, I envy that ability, as I totally lack it. Can any-one really learn, Janice?
#12 Sep 8th, 2007, 04:05
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#12
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Originally Posted by Nick-H View Post Can any-one really learn, Janice?
well, in your case, i dunno...
#13 Sep 8th, 2007, 09:30
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#13
For some reason my Mother gets a lot of these "telemarketing" calls.The callers are invariably south Indian-she doesn't understand a word and oddly enough usually I don't either.

However if they fail to get off the line quickly I find they have no problem understanding my fluency in naughty and rude Hindi (I never learned any naughty and rude Tamil ,just "kuti po" which doesn't count)
It's absolutely amazing the number of things you can tell someone to do with a chicken in Hindi.
Maybe I'll start a thread......
#14 Sep 8th, 2007, 10:45
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#14
Thanks for understanding and the suggestions! I should point out that I'm teaching English to older students mostly from northern India or the bordering northern Indian countries. And I have them repeat quite often. Part of the problem is that they all speak in a low tone while I'm (almost) shouting at them to speak louder.

Also, I've noticed how my English is actual worsening since coming here. I'm talking louder so I can be understood but I'm dropping articles and really simplifying my English ... sometimes I make the same speech mistakes my students make. I'm also gesturing more ... the head wobble I'm still working on ... feels unnatural.

@cvlvr : I had a rickshaw driver ask me that too. 'Course I'm speaking English! ... Misunderstanding the rickshaw drivers is real frustrating.

I really wish I could lip read or everyone came with floating subtitles. But I can deal ... at least I can speak English.
#15 Sep 8th, 2007, 11:02
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#15
I'm not sure if you speak hindi or are attempting to study it but one of the things I found in learning to recognize and vocalize the many vowels, consonants & conjuncts of hindi is: the more you learn and practice it, the more simplistic spoken english appears in comparison.
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