NAJIT hosted its annual conference in St. Louis recently and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. One of the pre-conference sessions I attended was about interpreting accents.
As a French interpreter I frequently have to interpret francophones from Africa, and sometimes, I have a hard time understanding them since I speak French from France.
Interpreting for accents is a skill that can be developed. Essentially, we must become familiar with the sounds that are pronounced differently for the people that we are working for and how they pronounce those sounds. For instance, when a person from France speaks in English they often have a hard time pronouncing the “H” if the word starts with that letter. “Hard” will often become “Ard”. What’s funny, is that they also have a tendency to add an “H” to words that start with vowels. So “Earth” often turns into “Hearth”. Therefore, if a French person is speaking in English, I know that I can probably expect them to drop the first “H” if the word starts with one, or add an “H” if the word starts with a vowel.
I find that what helps sometimes is to close my eyes (if this is possible of course), and imagine that I am with them in their country. This shifts the listening part of my brain to do naturally adapt to them, rather than expecting that the sounds come out the way that I am used to hearing them.
Another way to improve on this skill if you know what accent you will be dealing with is to listen to the accent ahead of time and make note of that accent’s particularities and make note of these phonetic “replacements” that take place.
Here is a list of websites that you can visit to hear different accents from around the world: