Different varieties of the German language are very distinct from each other–but I do not know whether I could tell the difference between a “high German” speaker and a “low German” speaker just based on their accents when they speak English.
Is the distinction blatantly obvious? Clear with some training or practice? Very difficult to make out?
And, do people in other countries mark a distinction between an American accent and, say, a British accent, or does it all sound like a generic “English” accent to them?
Your Question is difficult to answer because it’s very unclear. Do you mean “High standard German (Hochdeutsch)” and “Low German =Plattdütsch” or do you mean “Low German = Dutch”? Dutch is a seperate language of the Netherlands; Plattdütsch is not an accent, but a seperate dialect.
A personal anecdote: When I was in the US, and knowing that I spoke with a strong German accent, I met another person who had a similar accented English, but a little different. When I asked, he told me he was not from Germany, but from the Netherlands.
The question is also: how trained is the listener in distinguishing accents in English in the first place? Many yanks can’t distinguish British accents at all, which are bloody obvious to the Brits; some native speakers don’t even recognize all American accents or dialects.
Do you mean: does e.g. a native German speaker notice and correctly identify the difference in accent when one Brit speaks German with British accent and one Yank speaks German with American accent?
Impossible to say in general. People’s ability to hear, and the knowledge to correctly identify, accents in general varies very very widely for their native language.
For foreigners speaking your own language with an accent you have a lot of exposure to, because you’re Scandinavian and listen to both sub-titled BBC TV and US TV, is quite different from a German or French who only knows translated TV and thus can’t go beyond “Foreigner”.
Additionally, the accent of the foreigner varies a lot due to several factors:
How close is the foreigners own accent to the second language? A texas drawl or Oxford accent is different from RP or mountain accent.
How close to standard accent was the second language teacher speaking? A texan being taught German by a Swabian would be … unintelligible mixture at first, I think. (Look at youtube for Swabian politican Rainer Brüderle, I think there’s one clip where he tries to speak English with a swabian accent. Not good).
How much practice does the foreigner have, and how much time did he spend learning the second language? Somebody who spent 4 weeks will sound different from somebody who spent 4 years. Some people have an ear for languages and quickly loose their accent, some keep it forever.
There is some typical Yank accent (chewing gum wide mouth, growling - see the Bully clip in the thread about How does English sound…) that many Germans would recognize, and a strong posh English accent that some Germans would recognize. But if the foreigner has a mild accent, or the listener no exposure to English, he wouldn’t be recognized beyond “foreigner”.
Does the OP mean non native English speakers? because, non speakers are unlikely to get it at all. Accents are just the manner of speaking a language, if a non speaker cannot understand it at all, he is unlikely to appreciate the manner of speaking, at least until promted.
Yes, it is possible (for this German) to distinguish Americans and Brits speaking German. As has been pointed out, American tend to drawl a bit more, especially on the "r"s, while a British accent sounds more, well, British.
I would also agree that this might vary with the amount of English (American or British) that any particular German is exposed to.
I have german and spanish friends who speak excellent English but can’t tell apart US and British accents. e.g. I was watching kitchen nightmares (the US version) with a spanish friend (who speaks fluent English), and he was surprised when I mentioned that Ramsey is british.
This German thinks he can distinguish (at least some kind of) American English accents in German by a drawl that carries over into German, and the British English accent of the academics he was in contact with by some characteristics of rhythm and possibly a somewhat higher tone of voice.
As a non native english speaker it is possible to distinguish different english accents. Great Britain alone has a few very different accents I could recognize. Welsh, irish, scottish or cockney from the london area.
Same goes for the US, very clear to hear if someone is from the NY/NJ area or texas or louisianna/mississippi. Granted that’s about all I could think of, but that’s not bad for someone whos never been to the usa.
I once tried to demonstrate a southern drawl* to a Chinese friend of mine who hadn’t been living in the States very long. She just looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face because she couldn’t tell I was doing anything different. I guess Chinese and English are different enough that the accent was too subtle, even though I thought I was really hamming it up.
*My family is from the south, but I grew up in the military and moved around enough that my normal way of speaking is more of a “standard” General American accent. I spent enough time in NC to do a passable approximation to a southern drawl.
It depends on how long the person has been immersed in the English language.
As a non native English speaker who has lived many years in the U.S., I can distinguish between standard American and southern accent, but not between Washington D.C. and Chicago, for example. British English sounds quite different to me (and a little funny :)).
Certainly - and I did not mean to imply that there was.
I’m not sure you actually can generalise so diverse a set (at least as far as I know the British range of accents to be). Compare a Glaswegian accent to a Somerset accent, to a Mancunian, for example - they’re almost nothing alike.
But my comment was really addressed more at the respondents in the thread who seemed to be referring to ‘the British accent’ as if it was monolithic.
In my experience the answer is generally no. I work with hundreds of people who speak English as their second language. Whenever this subject comes up, the consensus is that they can’t tell the difference among the various shades of English (British vs. American vs. Australian vs. etc.). It was surprising to me at first, but not any more. It’s pretty much the default.
I think though that there’s a danger between drawing an equivalance between the varitey of American English dialects/accents and the variety of British English dialects accents. The variety of British English dialect/accents has had far longer to evolve and indeed msot of the differences come from differences that existed centuries before American English started to evolve. From what I understand American English is generally regarded as more homogenous than British English.