While English is the most commonly used language in the United States, anyone who’s spent time in different parts of the country knows that not all Americans sound the same. Accents vary across regions, with many being quite subtle and constantly changing, and others being hard to understand to an outside ear.
The wide variety of accents can also apparently pose a challenge for Americans traveling abroad, and particularly for those from a few regions.
Family Destinations Guide, a website with travel reviews of hotels, destinations and attractions for families, recently surveyed 3,000 U.S. adults to gauge how difficult it is to communicate effectively when traveling overseas. The participants rated their difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating the most difficulty.
Rhode Island and Maine
As it turns out, the least understood American travelers are from Rhode Island, followed by Maine, according to the survey. People from both of these states commonly have what’s called "the New England accent," or the "Yankee accent." Other states with this same regional dialect can include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Those from Rhode Island can have an accent that’s "a hybrid of Northern and Southern New England English, a Boston-meets-Brooklyn sound with a dash of Italian and Portuguese slang mixed in," according to the New England Historical Society.
FILE - A "Welcome to Rhode Island" sign. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Rhode Islanders, like many other New Englanders, tend to drop their Rs and then add them to the end of words, such as "bananner," it adds.
"Some say you can talk Rhode Island by using a Boston accent mixed with Italian slang. Not quite," the New England Historical Society states online.
Rhode Islanders’ broad A is a bit less pronounced than in places like Boston. Rhode Islanders say "Pawk the caw," whereas Bostonians say "Pahk the cah."
"In Boston you ride a hahs, but in Providence, you ride a hawse," the group explains.
Meanwhile, those from Alabama were ranked as the third least understood Americans while traveling abroad. Like many other states, accents can vary based on where one might live in the southern state.
In parts of north Alabama, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, some may speak with the "Southern Appalachian accent." This region also covers parts of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, according to Family Destinations Guide.
In north Alabama, many one-syllable words get stretched out to two-syllable words. In south Alabama, sometimes two words get condensed into one, writes Michael Seale for Patch.com.
"Someone from, say, Muscle Shoals might say they are washing their hair by stating, ‘I'm washing my 'hay-arr.'’ Someone from Daphne, when asking if ‘you want to’ head to the store, might say, ‘Y'onna go shoppin'?" Seale explained in a 2021 piece about Alabama’s variety of dialects.
Despite being more popularized in Hollywood movies and television shows, the New York City accent was ranked as the fourth least understood for Americans traveling abroad, according to the survey.
This is another distinct regional accent that is commonly found in the five boroughs of the city: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
The NYC accent is known for its distinct pronunciation of vowels and consonants, as well as a particular rhythm and intonation pattern, Family Destinations Guide writes.
Speakers often drop Rs that are followed by another consonant, turning words like "forget" into "fuhget." It’s also distinctive for its high-gliding vowels, which turn words like "talk" and "caught" into "tawk" and "cawt," according to Dictionary.com.
Louisiana’s Cajun English accent was fifth in the most misunderstood Americans ranking. The accent is commonly found in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, which is home to the Cajun people of French Canadian descent, according to Family Destinations Guide.
These speakers often have a unique blend of French and English influences, and the accent is often associated with the rural areas of the state, the company says.
The most characteristic feature of the accent is that there is no "th" sound; a "th" will be pronounced with a "d" or a "t." Instead of saying "That’s my father," it would sound closer to "Dat’s my fahder," according to the language learning platform Babbel.com.
Another phonological feature is that "p"s, "t"s and "k"s aren’t aspirated, so they tend to sound more like "b"s, "d"s and "g"s, respectively, according to Babbel.com.
"So ‘Park my car in Toronto’ would sound a bit like ‘Bark my gar in Dorondo.’ Not exactly like that, but when it’s spoken quickly the latter phrase doesn’t sound as abnormal as it looks, anyway," the website states.
Those from Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Michigan were ranked as the best understood Americans abroad. Click here to see the full ranking.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.