Accents and dialects abound in the world of languages, so what you learn if you plan on travelling, working, or even living in a foreign country?
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We get this question often, and we've helped thousands of people learn a language for travel, international business, work, and even retirement purposes (including many of our own employees, we love to travel!)
The answer to this question is very clear to us from our experience: you should absolutely learn the "proper", neutral, widely used grammar and vocabulary of a language before learning the small differences of any specific region.
An example we've found that illustrates this point well: imagine a non-native English speaker wanting to learn English so that they can travel to New Orleans, Louisiana (USA). As you may know, the southern United States has varietal accents and vocabulary that differ from the neutral midwestern accent quite a bit. The word "y'all" is a common word used in the south which really means "you all".
Would you recommend this student work with a teacher who has a very strong southern accent, and recommend they hear and try to learn sentences such as "How y'all doin?".....before they learn the meaning of "How are you doing?"
It would be extremely difficult, and incredibly confusing, for a non-native English speaker to attempt to learn the meaning of "How y'all doin?" first. Imagine trying to explain this example to an English learner. You might try:
I think you know the word "how" already, so that's great. The second word in the sentence, y'all... well it isn't technically an English word. It is a regional contraction of "you all". And well..."doin" isn't a word either. It is a regional shortening of "doing". So first lets look at what "you all" means. Typically you would just say "you" in a sentence to refer to many people, e.g. "How are you doing?" but in the south with this regional y'all, it means you all. Referring to a group of people in this instance. Now, oftentimes southern speakers will say "How are you doing?", which means the same thing as "How y'all doin?" So when you hear "y'all" just convert it in your mind to "you all". You is the pronoun, and all referring to everyone, a group of people.
As you can see, it complicates things incredibly. Which is why when a student tells us "I'm travelling to central Colombia, I really need a teacher from that region" we tell them "we recommend the opposite, actually. You don't want a teacher who uses the Spanish language improperly"
(Note: we don't think regional language differences are "improper" in a negative way, not at all; they are simply different than the language standard)
What's a better approach?
First learn the neutral, "proper" language use. Get to a good intermediate - advanced level, where you clearly understand the sentence "How are you doing?", then learning the regional "How y'all doin?" will take you all of 5 minutes!
A New Yorker who has never heard the "How y'all doin?" phrase before will understand it the first time they hear the explanation. For a first-time English learner though, it's next to impossible to come to a clear understanding because they don't have the necessary base knowledge.
If you attempt to learn distinct regional differences first, you'll almost always learn much more slowly, and it will likely be very frustrating and confusing as our "y'all" example above shows.
Don't have time to get to an intermediate - advanced level before your trip? We recommend spending ~95% of your time learning the language. Then the last 5% of your time, simply ask your teacher (or Google) about the regional differences. Since you'll have a solid base understanding of the language, the regional differences will be a piece of cake.
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