Quite often I begin with the answer to a nonspecific question with the following: “It depends.”
And so it does especially in regard to spoken language accents.
For starters, one must recognize that even a native speaker from one distinct region will sound quite different than a native speaker from that same country who prevails from another region.
You don’t need foreign travel experience to know the validity of this.
If you are from the US than you most likely know that a southern drawl is something very different than a mid western twang. Similarly, it’s easy to tell the difference between a New Yorker and a born and bread Southern California native.
Who’s to say which is better?
Let’s just recognize that their accents are different and leave it at that. It’s still English either way.
With that said, let’s move into Spanish and what constitutes a “good” Spanish accent.
How’s your Spanish accent?
I’ll start by saying that there are indeed some pronunciation rules in Spanish. If you know them, then you are well on your way to getting it right in terms of being able to be understood by other native Spanish speakers.
If one doesn’t know those rules it is akin to an English learner walking into a store and asking to purchase vine-gar when what they want is vinegar. (Hopefully, the sales clerk has some patience and a sense of humor so that they eventually walk out with what they wanted.)
And so it is with your Spanish accent.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to audio language learning materials then you are bound to learn the accent of the country and region of the the speaker or speakers performing the audio.
Here in lies what is know as acquired accent learning.
It is unavoidable and beneficial. The more you listen, not simply hear, and attempt to reproduce both the cadence and intonation of the material you’re using the more you will sound like a speaker who originates from that part of the world.
At this point, the question should be raised, what is this based upon?
It’s a valid question and here’s the answer.
I’ve had the opportunity to acquire a few unique accents along the way in my Spanish language learning journey.
At this stage, after some 25 plus years, I’ve cultured my own Spanish accent and sound quite unique and hard to pin down as far as country of origin.
In the beginning I had a very distinct Mexican accent. I started learning Spanish in high school surrounded by Mexicans and using audio material generated by neutral Mexican native speaker accents.
Since I was new to Spanish, I repeated what I heard. It’s as simple as that.
In most audio language programs, the idea is to be as neutral accent orientated as possible in order to reach as wide of an audience as possible.
That makes sense and is what happens.
Imagine if you were trying to learn English and your audio material was heavily deep south accented and orientated. For starters, it would present learning challenges as there are deviations from the standard pronunciation guidelines. (Hopefully, if you have ever been through Louisiana, you get the picture.)
Later, I moved to Spain to further my Spanish at the university in Madrid. You might think that I ended up with a Castilian accent and I would have, except for one major development. I ended up living with an Argentinian roommate, and I witnessed how Spanish speakers preferred that accent over their own. (Not all but many, especially females.)
Because I was still formulating my Spanish both in word choice/vernacular and with respect to my pronunciation/accent, I choose to emulate the Argentinian accent over Castilian.
Since then and after a number of other moves and travels, my accent has changed evermore over time. As I mentioned earlier, I am generally recognized as a native speaker, but listeners are not quite sure from where I hail.
This brings us to the next point.
It is important to note that no matter what your accent preference may end up to be, pronunciation rules still apply. For instance, the consonant “d” in between vowels is pronounced like the English “th”.
Give these examples a try: todo, ciudad, dedo.
If one disregards that, no matter what country and/or region the rest of the accent might sound like, you will be recognized as non native. Plain and simple.
Therefore, if you want to have a “good” Spanish accent, start with the pronunciation rules and then you can pick and choose to delve deeper into the specific geographical accent you most prefer.
Personally, I never cared whether or not I could pass as a Mexican, a Spaniard or an Argentinian, what I wanted and still strive for is to pass as a native Spanish speaker.
For me that’s enough!