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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Eric Dier’s German accent is actually ‘completely normal’ – this is why

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last couple of days, you will probably have seen the clip of Eric Dier conducting a post-match interview with German TV, shortly after making his Bayern Munich debut against Union Berlin on Wednesday.

The interview is in English, but the reason it became notable is Dier’s accent, which has an unmistakable German inflection.

He thus joins the pantheon of Englishmen abroad who have done similar, from Joey Barton when he moved to Marseille, Jadon Sancho during his first spell at Borussia Dortmund and, probably most famously, Steve McClaren when he was manager of FC Twente in the Netherlands.

Perhaps predictably, Dier became the subject of some mockery, admittedly not a unique experience on some of the less salubrious corners of social media. “Ridiculous”; “Elocution lessons from Joey Barton!”; “As a native German, Eric is quickly developing his command of English”; “Absolutely bizarre.”

Even people defending him couldn’t seem to help but stick the boot in. “Getting bored of this now,” said one. “So many people are tweeting this but he has always spoken weird like that…”

We’re sure he appreciates the support.

Presumably, the theory behind the people giggling at Dier sits somewhere between ‘it just sounds silly’, and the idea that he’s being pretentious in some way, affecting an accent that isn’t really his. Or perhaps people think he’s actually mocking his new hosts himself.

And yet, is this really worth the scorn he is being subjected to? Is this actually a strange affectation, or is it a man — subconsciously or otherwise — simply attempting some form of assimilation into what is still an unfamiliar environment for him?

Everyone does this sort of thing: on the most basic level, it’s incredibly easy to mimic the speech patterns of whoever you’re talking to, whether that’s an accent or a particular inflection on certain words or phrases or even the pitch of your voice. It’s how environments routinely change people’s accents, a subconscious adaptation to what is around you.

Mostly though, it’s probably just an attempt to make himself better understood.

Angel Gomes, who was born in London, raised in Salford and has been playing abroad since 2020 — first in France for Lille, and also with a loan spell in Portugal for Boavista — certainly believes so.

“Try speaking English in France with a Salfordian accent and see if they understand,” Gomes said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “You have to adapt to your environment for people to understand especially when they aren’t speaking their first language.”

Dier doesn’t have a particularly strong regional English accent, but his natural speaking voice certainly contains inflections of Portuguese. Which is perfectly natural: he was born in England but moved to Portugal when he was seven and didn’t return full-time until his move to Spurs when he was 20. Therefore, his English accent might be slightly harder for a German speaker to understand, or at least he might perceive that it could be.

“It’s absolutely, completely normal,” says Professor Monika Schmid, head of the linguistics department of the University of York. “People don’t expect it, which is why you get lots of these horrible comments.”

One of the most basic problems with moving to a new country is communication: if you don’t know the language, then you’re relying on those around you to know yours. We’ve all probably encountered the frustration and embarrassment of not being able to make yourself clear in a foreign land. And from an English perspective, many of us have also experienced the shame of attempting to communicate in the native language of wherever we are, only for whoever we’re talking with to answer in flawless English.

Dier is fortunate to have moved to an area of Germany where plenty of people speak English, so he can take his time a bit more learning the native language. But until then, he is doing what he can — either subconsciously or otherwise — to make himself better understood.

“I think it is subconscious, but I think it’s genuinely a positive thing,” adds Rob Drummond, professor of sociolinguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. “I think it shows somebody who’s a really good communicator.

“We all tend to accommodate the way we speak towards the person we’re talking to. If someone has a particularly posh accent and they’re in an environment where they stand out, they might change their accent to assimilate with the people they’re with.


Eric Dier is learning to adapt to life in a new country (Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)

“In this situation, he’s being interviewed by someone in English, by someone with a German accent, and he’s replying in the same variety of English. I can guarantee people will understand him better. The German public who might not have English as a common language will understand him better than his standard accent. I don’t think he realises he’s doing it.

“He’s naturally, subconsciously speaking in a way that he thinks will make him understood.“

While it is likely to be subconscious, it’s also situational. For a start, it’s not just the person in front of him that Dier is trying to communicate with: he’s being interviewed by a reporter from Sky Sports Germany, so he will be aware that he is talking to thousands, maybe millions of people watching on TV or online. That will underline the importance of being understood.

That scenario may influence how much actual, conscious control he has over how he’s speaking. Dier has been a professional footballer for many years so is used to being interviewed, but this is a completely different environment to any he’s used to: a new country, new surroundings, new language, new interviewer.

Professor Schmid says that outside factors like this can influence the way someone will talk and approach these sorts of interactions. “I find it gets worse when you get tired, or when you’re not feeling well or ill, or when you’re emotional or angry,” she says. “The control can slip. This was just after a game, you would imagine he’s exhausted and that could happen.”

The fact that Dier is bilingual anyway could play a part in it. Portuguese might not be his first language, but he is certainly more attuned to the changing inflections and peculiarities of different languages than those monolinguists among us. “He’s very aware of language,” says Drummond. “I would imagine he’s very used to adapting the way he speaks and quite adept at that.”

It happens to players in England, too. Take this clip of Alexander Isak, the Swedish forward who signed for Newcastle two years ago, talking to his teammates. If you were to ask someone who didn’t know anything about Isak, his nationality or his background, to guess where he’s from, they would probably say London.

 

This could be the influence of teammates that he spends a lot of time with, it could be cultural influences through film or music, it could be down to a range of factors, but it’s the same principle as Dier: it’s mostly about assimilation, adapting to your surroundings and doing whatever you can to feel acceptance or a sense that you belong somewhere.

It’s easy to mock people like Dier — or Sancho, or Barton, or McClaren or Isak — for speaking in what might ostensibly be a very unusual fashion. But in the end, he is just trying to connect with someone in whatever manner he can find. We can probably all identify with that.

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)



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