You know that friend who goes to study abroad and returns from London using the word “lift” instead of elevator and “accidentally” slips into a British accent while ordering drinks at a bar? Well, science has officially said he or she is faking.
Basically, according to this video, after childhood, your accent remains stable, no matter what you do.
Apparently, it doesn't matter how long you live in a foreign country -- your accent from your native language will always stay exactly the same. Someone should tell this to my sister, who speaks with an Italian accent for three days after every trip to Europe.
After the age of 12, our brains have been pre-set to hear and produce sounds in a specific and, unfortunately, not very flexible way. So, this video claims, even if you went to Spain at 12 years old and even if you stayed there for 40 years, you will almost never be able speak Spanish with a perfect accent.
The video brings up a study done in Japan that illustrates this perfectly.
Researchers took American 6-month-olds and Japanese 6-month-olds and saw if they could tell the difference between a recording playing “la, la, la” and one that played “la, la, ra.” Unsurprisingly, they all could.
BUT, when they brought in American and Japanese 10-month-olds, the Japanese babies could no longer hear the difference between “la” and “ra” because in Japanese (the language they had been exposed to), there is no difference.
This “la” vs “ra” difference is called “phoneme.” So, like, now you know that and can sound smart when explaining this badly to friends while drunk later.
Another phoneme, which is not included in this video but is addressed in this awesome podcast on the subject, is the difference between “Harry” and “hairy.” Apparently, English people hear a difference between how they pronounce these two words, and Americans do not. Yes, it's very, very weird.