Editor Note: post written by Adam.
For many people, the main goal when it comes to learning a foreign language is just to speak it fluently and that makes sense, but for some, the goal is to speak it fluently AND with a non-foreign accent almost like a native speaker.
I am one of those “some” people. My ultimate goal is to always speak a language as well as a native speaker and don’t tell me It’s impossible because it’s not. I’ve done it and I can do it again.
In this article, I’m only going to cover one aspect of speaking a language well and that is getting rid of a foreign accent and speaking with a native one, so let’s go!
What’s an accent?
An accent is a specific pronunciation of words in a language. It’s not a dialect. A dialect includes pronunciation and vocabulary, so in fact there is nothing such as American or British accents. That’s not accurate, because they are distinctive dialects who also have sub-dialects and accents. They are almost different languages (American English, British English) and In the USA alone, it’s estimated that there are between 22-25 accents and dialects!
What’s a foreign accent?
A foreign accent is a mis-pronunciation of words or sounds in a language. For example, If I pronounce the consonants and vowels in English the way they are pronounced in Italian then I would have a foreign (Italian accent).
What’s the importance of accent?
The study of importance of accents and their effects on social life is called sociolinguistics. Accents are very important and play a huge role in the social lives of people. In some societies, people are discriminated by their accents, so they are important and define your identity.
Why would someone want to get rid of a foreign accent?
Some people are against the idea of speaking a language with its native accent. Their argument is that they’d lose their identity and it’s wrong to do. I’ve never understood that argument, because even If you spoke English with an American dialect, it doesn’t mean you lose your original identity or nationality. Yes, people would assume you are American, but it’s nothing to be ashamed off and it wouldn’t force you to change who you are!
I think there are many good reasons to lose a foreign accent and speak with a native one because when you speak like a native:
- Others understand you better (especially natives).
- You understand better and your listening skills improve dramatically.
- You speak the language the way it should be.
- You acquire linguistic skills that will help you with learning more languages quickly.
How to get rid of a foreign accent?
Getting rid of a foreign accent especially when you have already learned the language and are already accustomed to a certain (wrong) way of pronunciation will be difficult and require a lot of hard work. It’s not as easy as when you are learning from scratch, but the following tips will help you speak with a native accent:
Learn to pronounce the sounds the way they are originally pronounced in the native language. This is the MOST important step because it will help you apply the other tips. Realize that the same letter can be pronounced differently in many languages and practise very hard to pick up and memorize the new and native pronunciation.
Listen to the language spoken with its native accent and FOCUS on the pronunciation instead of the meaning of the words. It’s not only about pronouncing the individual letters but also when they come in chunks. Listen, repeat and practise.
Choose a TV or a Radio show presenter who speak with your target accent and IMITATE THEM. Yes, imitate them. This works very well. Repeat the way they pronounce the words accurately and practise every day. Your brain will start to replace your old foreign accent with the new one.
Learn the correct intonation of your target accent. Intonation is VERY important and can change the meaning of the sentence dramatically! Practise tip #3 and focus on the intonation. The more you practise and use the correct pronunciation at the right times, the more your brain will get used to it and speak with it naturally.
Learn the linguistics behind your target language. If you are a language freak like me, It helps a lot to break up the accent you want to learn and know how it is made. For example, I can tell you anything you want to know about the difference between a specific American and British accent. The use of “R” in American English, the use of “Shwa” in British English…etc If you study it, know the difference and what makes up the accent, it will be very easy for you to pick it up.
Practise practise practise! …. with a native speaker if you can! If you are lucky and know a native speaker, practise with them. Listen to them speak, and imitate them and let them correct you.
Stay consistent! A big mistake dialect learners make is that they are inconsistent with their pronunciation. They’d mix up accents. For example, they’d have an American accent and would then pronounce a few words the way it is pronounced lets say in Liverpool, England. You must stay consistent.
For more about language learning, checkout the language learning resources page.