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Most English speakers really struggle to produce the ch and r sounds correctly. The ü sound also doesn’t have an equivalent in English.

How bad do English speakers really sound when they speak German? I want a brutally honest answer.

Is it like finger nails on chalkboard as some accents are in English? Or is it rather pleasant like a French accent, even one from someone who only speaks broken English, can be on the ears?

How much does an English accent impact on intelligibility? Do you struggle to understand what a native English speaker is saying, given their typical problems with pronunciation, and also given the fact they’re probably going to be making lots of grammar mistakes?

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    Hi and welcome to German Language Stack Exchange. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Visit the help center to learn more about how it works. – Jan Jan 7 '16 at 16:39
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    I’m very tempted to close this question as primarily opinion-based. – Jan Jan 7 '16 at 16:39
  • Do you have audio examples? – Carsten S Jan 7 '16 at 17:49
  • man verstehts schon einigermaßen youtube.com/watch?v=EsmsVqVXHbc (scnr) edit: there was one schlager-singer from an english speaking country who decided not to try a "proper german r" because he felt it sounded stupid when foreigners try it.. i fail to remember the name – Bort Jan 7 '16 at 20:17
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    @Crissov: Non-rhotic accents of English have a final schwa; it’s spelt -er (or -re), as in sooner or centre. – chirlu Jan 7 '16 at 21:49
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The thing about the perception of accents is that it is extremely opinion based. Some people love French accents, some people hate them, much the same way as some dialects are loved by some and hated by others. It is safe to say that everybody will have a personal opinion on how British (or American or Australian/others, although these last ones are decidedly rarer) accents of German sound and that you will receive the entire spectrum from love to hatred when asking enough people.

That said, none of the accents really inhibit intelligibility. Most sounds of the English language are fairly close to their German counterparts so the phoneme mapping is rather good and not much gap-filling remains. Yes, /x/, /ç/ and /r/ have no direct English equivalent, but usually the sounds around them provide enough clues as to which word is meant. There are languages out there that are much more removed and whose speakers’ accents are generally much harder to understand. (But also note that it is possible to learn how to speak accent-free German no matter what your mother tongue is.)

What might inhibit understanding is bad choice of word order (depending on how far away a sentence is from what a German expects) and funny emphasis on certain words — and occasionally mispronounced foreign words when pronouncing them in a more German fashion. (/baige/, anyone?) All things considered, it is usually nothing that can’t be resolved after a single ‘excuse me?’

  • I think I have yet to meet someone who started learning German as an adult and is really accent-free. – chirlu Jan 7 '16 at 20:37
  • @chirlu I’ll wholeheartedly agree with you that accent-freeness is a rare trait, but it is achieveable for grown-ups, too. – Jan Jan 7 '16 at 20:39
  • @Jan Sure, it’s possible, but for most purposes of learning the (or any) language it shouldn’t really be the objective. – Crissov Jan 7 '16 at 21:47
  • @Crissov Why ever not? – Jan Jan 18 '16 at 13:17
  • @Jan Any learner of a foreign language wants to understand and be understood, the former is more important to some and the latter to others. Likewise, the desire to excel in reading or writing literal texts or speaking and listening to oral discourse may be of different importance. Not being identifiable as a (certain kind of) foreigner doesn’t help with any of that (esp. not with literature, film or music). Often, a foreign accent isn’t worse than a dialectal accent. Still, you may strive for perfection in anything you do, but it’s usually better to be seen as imperfect than as an impostor. – Crissov Jan 18 '16 at 14:41

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