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My name is Arnau and I'm from Barcelona.

Over the last few years, I've been exposed to the British culture a lot (I have British friends, I've been living in Brighton for a while, I watch British TV shows, etc.) and I've kind of 'developed' a British accent. Obviously, I don't speak like a native speaker but many Brits have told me that my pronunciation is pretty good.

However, I've recently noticed that whenever I speak with non-native speakers of English (my classmates at uni, foreigners, my friends, etc.), they tend not to understand me if I speak with my 'default' accent which is non-rhotic. And in order to make them understand me, I need to repeat what I said in a rhotic accent.

So, for example, the other day I was answering a question that my math teacher asked (who's Spanish) and the conversation went like this:

MY TEACHER: What is wrong with these propositions?

ME: You have to change the order (/'ɔː.də'/).

TEACHER: Sorry?

ME: You need to change the order (/'ɔː.də'/).

TEACHER: You need to change what?

ME: The order (/'ɔː.də'/). (I pronounce it slowly and she doesn't answer anything. So, I repeat 'order' again with a rhotic accent.) The order (/'ɔːr.dər'/).

TEACHER: Ah! The order (/'or.der/).

Another situation. I was talking to a friend from France.

MY FRIEND: I don't think I'll ever pass the exam.

ME: Maybe you need to work (/wɜːk/) harder (/'hɑː.də/).

FRIEND: I need to what?

ME: Work (/wɜːk/) harder (/'hɑː.də/).

FRIEND: I don't understand you.

ME: You need to work (/wɝːk/) harder (/'hɑːr.dər/).

FRIEND: Ahh okay! Yeah, you're right.

You see what I mean? Why does this happen? Is it because when they teach us English, they only teach us the rhotic variety of English?

Any thoughts?

Thank you.

P.S.: This only happens to me when I speak to non-native speakers. If I talk to my British or American friends with my non-rhotic accent, I don't have any problem being understood.

  • This is kind of hard to answer? Maybe they learned/were taught with a rhotic accent or maybe your general accent with nonrhoticity is confusing. Could be lots of things. Do rhotic speakers understand you unequivocally? – Mitch Oct 19 '17 at 13:43
  • Yes, when I speak to Americans, they understand me pretty well. – Arnau Oct 19 '17 at 13:45
  • Do you speak rhotically or. nonrhotically with Americans? – Mitch Oct 19 '17 at 13:46
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    Were you taught British or American English? There is a subtle (and for some vowels, not so subtle) difference between standard British and American vowels. If your vowels are American, but you're using a non-rhotic accent, people may be expecting a rhotic accent and not understand you. Americans from New York and New England often have non-rhotic American accents, and Brits are used to all sorts of very non-standard English accents (some of which Americans can't understand); this might account for these groups not having any problems with your accent. – Peter Shor Oct 19 '17 at 15:09
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    This only happens to me when I speak to non-native speakers because many European learners think the letter R should always be pronounced, and probably their teachers at school emphasized that letter in their speech patterns due to 1st language (mother tongue) interference. Tell your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that your pronunciation is correct (but not hearing your accent or your pronunciation, it's impossible to know for certain). – Mari-Lou A Oct 19 '17 at 17:46
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It is no wonder that educated Americans would have no difficulty with your "British" accent. Educated Americans are generally exposed to many types of "accents" ; same for educated Brits. Among educated English speakers, there is usually no great difficulty understanding English across and between continents.
That your friends and, even, instructors might have problems with your British English is also no wonder. Unless a person is exposed to many different sorts of English, sounds might come that are not expected, and understanding limited.
Since World War 2, (General) American English has had the ascendancy over British English. Not the least reason for this is the popularity of US television and motion pictures. General American has become the de facto world standard, replacing British English, even to a great extent in Europe.
You seem to be handling this issue well.

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