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Imitation easiest way to grasp a foreign language

If you have trouble understanding people with regional or foreign accents, imitating their accent may help you understand what they're saying.

Imitation easiest way to grasp a foreign language

If you have trouble understanding people with regional or foreign accents, imitating their accent may help you understand what they're saying.

In conversation, we often imitate each other's speech style and may even change our accent to fit that of the person we're talking to. People don't only do this with speech but people have a tendency to imitate each other in body posture.

Researchers tested Dutch volunteers on how well they understood sentences spoken in an unfamiliar accent and devised an experiment to test the effect of imitating and accent on subsequent comprehension of sentences spoken in that accent. To make sure that all listeners were unfamiliar, a new accent was invented for the study, in which all the vowels were swapped (for instance 'ball' would become 'bale'). Next, each participant listened to 100 sentences in the unfamiliar accent. But first, they were given different instructions on how to respond to the sentences. Some were told to repeat the sentence, imitating the accent. Others were told either only to listen, to repeat the sentences in their own accent, or to transcribe the accented sentences as they had heard them, complete with strange vowels. Finally, the participants were tested again on how well they could understand sentences spoken in the unfamiliar accent.

The participants who imitated the accent were much more likely to understand the sentences than those who wrote what they heard. In other words, copying speech of speaker boosts comprehension and the brain appears to be deploying a useful strategy to subtly and unconsciously shift the voice to sound more like the speaker's.
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