English is a universal language that connects people from all over the world.  English is also amazing given its vast vocabulary, with nearly a quarter of a million words. It's a global language with many different accents. So, does accent affect the sound of the English language?

With so many people eager to learn English, some native English speakers are beginning to believe it is the most useful language and they might be curious about how English sounds to non-native speakers.

ESL Tutoring Services has broken down what English sounds like to foreigners in this article and how hiring a professional English tutor can help you improve your English-speaking skills.

What Does the English Language Sound Like to Foreigners?

What does English sound like to foreigners? Is it a matter of pronunciation or syntax, or is it simply a psychological assumption based on the fact that the other party is aware that you are not a native speaker?

Non-native speakers believe that it is someone's pronunciation, particularly the accent and intonation that makes them sound foreign.

Regardless of perfect grammar, a large vocabulary, and smooth execution, if the intonation, stress, and character of vowels is just slightly off, most ESL learners believe that this gives away their non-native English speaker status.

You can pinpoint the details if you provide a recording of yourself. Most likely, your pronunciation differs only a small amount from the expected dialect differences.

There are numerous ways in which a person's accent can show that they’re a non-native English speaker or that they’re a native English speaker from a specific place. When speaking English, accents develop when you use non-English rules such as phonetic, syntactic, idiomatic, and so on.

Since they assume the rules to be accurate, many speakers are unaware that they are using norms from their own language that are incompatible with the rules of native English speakers.

Since non-native speakers aren't always aware of this, it's difficult to rectify unless they practice with a native speaker and are corrected by them.


Phonemes are the smallest part of speech that differentiate one word from another, for example, the word boat has three phonemes: /b/ /oa/ and /t/. The phonemes in one’s native language differ from English, and some English phonemes are not available in one’s native language. For example, the Japanese do not have the sound 'l' (they use an 'r' instead), and the French do not have the sound 'th' (they use 'z' or ‘s’ instead). Moreover, a large number of English vowels aren't available in French, so they merge them with the available vowels in their own language.

Syllable Pattern

In Japanese, a syllable can only begin with one consonant and must end in a vowel, thus, girlfriend is pronounced "garufurendo,” whereas the opposite is true of the English language where vowels are commonly used at the beginning of a word. The Japanese language also typically has more syllables in a word than in English.

Pronunciation Rules

The letter 'h' is not pronounced in French and there are other languages that also have specific rules about pronunciation in their native tongue. Thus, because English has such a wide range of pronunciation standards, it might be difficult for non-native speakers to use the correct pronunciation naturally.

Intonation Pattern

Intonation pattern refers to how the voice rises and falls in speech, and is especially difficult to master since it is unpredictable for non-native English speakers. Other languages have patterns which are generally very different from English and people typically don't recognise they're speaking with a non-native-like intonation pattern. A big part of intonation patterns in English is rhythm. The rhythm of speech is unique to every language and every speaker, and getting it accurate will make a big difference to the authenticity and fluency of your speech. You can read more about how English is a stress-timed language in our blog post here.


Speakers of isolating languages often overlook the importance of inflection such as past tense and plural nouns. After some training, you won't make such basic errors, although non-native speakers typically miss the finer points of the syntax like the arrangement of words in sentences, phrases, and clauses.


Idiomatic expressions, also known as idioms, are part of every language. For example, when a native speaker says, “It's a piece of cake,” they mean something is easy to do. Idioms can often cause confusion for non-native speakers as the direct translation usually doesn’t make any sense.

Furthermore, idioms or slang words may be specific to the geographic location of the native English speaker. In Australia, for example, saying “Hit the frog and toad,” would mean you’re telling someone to hit the road or to leave. American English speakers might confuse this for “having a frog in their throat,” meaning they have a sore throat and a gravelly voice.

There are numerous other ways to do it "wrong," therefore the best advice is to speak with a native speaker or hire a tutor who is familiar with these topics and have them correct you.

Hiring an English Tutor Can Help You Immensely

Here's how an English tutor can help you in determining your best learning path:

  • Using pre-assessment exams and verbal conversations, a qualified tutor can always spot red flags or areas of weakness.
  • Tutors normally work with one student at a time. One-on-one tutoring enables more freedom to create specific lesson plans based on the assessed competence levels.
  • A tutor can give you the most accurate assessment of your vocabulary and grammar skills.
  • A tutor reinforces the habit of daily practice and feedback on your performance. Every tutoring session includes continuous, real-time feedback that is far more beneficial than learning in a classroom environment.

About ESL Tutoring Services

At ESL Tutoring we tailor our lesson for your particular needs. Every person is unique, so the lessons we prepare are also different for each individual learner. At ESL Tutoring, we don’t just go from one chapter to another in a text book. We teach you what YOU want to know and our tutors put in the extra effort to help you achieve your goals. We don’t just teach English. We live English! Contact us today to learn more about what we can offer. We offer our teaching services in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as online.


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