At the risk of sounding like I am crazy, I hear multilingual voices in my head. To learn native pronunciation, I first hear a native speaking in my head.


When we see things in our heads, we refer to that as seeing with the mind’s eye. How about when we hear native speakers of foreign languages in our heads? Shall we call that “in the mind’s tongue”? My accent changes and I hear native accents in my head without any deliberate effort. My mind’s tongue has a mind of its own!


Brazilian and Portuguese flags

Brazilian and Portuguese flags

Given how I have had both European Portuguese and Brazilian influences along my journey to learning Portuguese, I have a mixed accent. When I’m in Brazil, people ask me if I have lived in Portugal or if I have Portuguese family because my vowels are more closed, like Portuguese vowels. But in Portugal, people often ask me if I’ve lived in Brazil or if I have Brazilian family because I pronounce a “d” followed by an “e” as a “zh” sound.  

My accent is Brazilian with my consonant and vowel combinations and Portuguese by my vowels. When I put those together, I have a mixed accent and people don’t know what to make of me.

For the word cidade (city), the European pronunciation is “see-dah-de”. I say it in Brazilian Portuguese as “see–dah-dge.” Or I make a “ch-ee” sound for the letters “t” and “e” combined, like in the word “presente”. I would say “pre-sench-ee” in Brazilian Portuguese instead of “pre-se-nt-uh” in European Portuguese. 

Most of the time, I am not consciously controlling my pronunciation or which accent is taking precedence. On my last day in Lisbon, I could hear my accent changing to be more European. First I heard Portuguese words in my head pronounced in European Portuguese when I read them on signs, menus, posters, etc. Then I heard my accent sound Portuguese rather than Brazilian when I spoke. 

"New Life" Russian translation of Orhan Pamuk's "Yeni Hayat"
“New Life” Russian translation of Orhan Pamuk’s “Yeni Hayat”

Hearing a particular pronunciation or accent in my head is part of how I process learning the prosody of languages and accents. For example, sometimes when I see an advertisement for Christiane Amanpour on CNN, I can hear her voice and her distinct mixed British-North American English pronunciation in my head. It’s not like I like hearing voices in my head, but this is how my brain works! Once when I was in Armenia, I was reading the Russian translation of the novel, Yeni Hayat (New Life) by the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. Instead of hearing the words in Russian as I would pronounce them, I heard the Russian words with an Armenian accent. The Armenian accent in Russian was so common for me to hear while I was in Armenia that it stuck with me. It was driving me crazy to hear the words with an Armenian accent in my head instead of how I would pronounce them that I had to stop reading the book! The strange thing was that I never tried speaking Russian with an Armenian accent.

A polyglot linguist friend of mine told me that he also can hear people’s voices and their accents in his head. Hearing voices in one’s head may be a conducive way to mimicking accents and having good pronunciation.

Admit it, do you hear native voices and accents in your head in other languages? You’re not alone!