Having an accent is not such a bad thing. Lots of people admit that they find people with accents more interesting and special than natural English speakers without accent. There are times, however, when your accent can make things harder for you. For instance, it may be more difficult to land a job if your accent is thick. Many people also treat you as a “foreigner” when you have an accent, not that they’re prejudiced, since it’s mostly done subconsciously. If you want to get rid of your accent, the following tips will help you achieve this goal as quickly as possible.
- Make up your mind: Your accent represents many things: your culture, memories of your motherland, your family, and others. Although you won’t lose your entire culture when you try to get rid of your accent, some people may still resent you for it. Make up your mind if you really want to go through the process, and then talk to your family and friends about their feelings regarding your decision. In the end though, it’s your decision to make whether to get rid of your accent or not.
- Choose an accent you want to adopt: There are dozens of different accents even among native English speakers. In the United States, for example, people from different states will have different accents. Consider what accent is most advantageous for you to adopt. Ask yourself which accent facilitates smoother and relevant social interactions in your daily life. Which accent is the most useful and would likely open up good opportunities for you in the future? Many people believe that it’s best to speak with a “neutral” accent, but even neutral accents are generally North American, British or Australian.
- Tell you family and friends to join you: Practicing a foreign accent can be difficult because this might alienate the people around you. Instead of assuming that your family and friends don’t want to have anything to do with your accent training, try to ask them to at least join you once. After all, you spend more hours with these people, and if they agree to help you, that would mean a lot. They may even have the same desire to get rid of their accent and adopt a new one to facilitate smoother social interaction with the community.
- Ask for the help of a native speaker: Learning from tapes and instructional videos is good, but learning from a live native speaker is better. If you have a friend who’s a native speaker of the accent you want to adopt, approach him if you encounter any difficulties in your training. List the words you find difficult to pronounce, and then have your friend pronounce them for you.
- Make friends with native speakers: Obviously, you’ll find the previous tip problematic if you don’t have a friend who’s a native speaker, which is why it’s important for you to go out and make friends with native speakers. Face it: if you’re surrounded by speakers of your native tongue all day, you won’t absorb the accent you want very quickly. Step out of your comfort zone, and take advantage of the fact that you live near thousands of native speakers. Socialize with them and make new friends and acquaintances. This way, you’ll have more opportunities to practice your accent even when you’re just walking down the road on a regular day.
- Talk, talk, talk! You won’t achieve anything significant if you limit yourself to talking in front of a recorder or a mirror. You need to immerse yourself in actual conversations with native English speakers to get the feel of the language. Books will help, but they mostly present a structured view of language that is different from the flexible language spoken in the real world. Don’t be shy, and always engage native speakers in conversations even in the early stages of your training. Remember that mistakes are part of the process to being a fluent English speaker.
- Watch TV: The best way to quickly get rid of your accent is to expose yourself to as much English media as possible. Tune in to American or English-language sitcoms, movie channels, and especially news programs. Pay attention to the rhythm and intonation of the speakers, and closely observe the movement of their lips. Try to imitate the sounds they are making by saying sentences exactly how they say them. This is the same technique that a young child does to learn a language, and it works for adults too, albeit at a slower rate.
- Record your progress: Language learning is largely done unconsciously, so it’s hard to know whether you’re progressing or not. Use a tape recorder to record your voice and evaluate how much you’ve improved. At the start of your training, read portions of English books or magazines aloud. After a couple of months, read the same passages again, and then listen for differences. Take note of which aspects you’ve improved on and what areas need more development. You can also ask a native English speaker to read the same passages, and then compare his recording to yours.
- Speak slower and improve your pronunciation: A good technique to reduce your accent is to speak slowly and clearly. It’s easy to forget to pay attention to your pronunciation once you learn to speak fluently. You may also develop bad pronunciation habits that are incorrect, such as pronouncing “th” as “d.” Speak slower and pronounce each word clearly to polish up your accent.
- Compare English sounds with the sounds of your native accent: Different languages have different ways of producing sounds. Some alphabets are pretty much the same, but their sounds are very different. Your native language may have sounds that English doesn’t use. Be careful not to accidentally produce such sounds when speaking English. For instance, the French “r” and the German “l” are pronounced differently from their English equivalents.
- Examine minimal pairs: Minimal pairs are pairs of sounds that non-native English speakers often confuse, such as “bed” and “bad” or “ship” and “sheep.” Exaggerate the sounds of minimal pairs of vowels when you practice their pronunciation so you can clearly hear the difference. Vowel sounds largely distinguish one accent from another.
- Improve your intonation: Intonation gives feelings to your spoken words. You may send out the wrong message if your intonation is wrong. For instance, you might sound angry when you’re actually happy. The best method to improve your intonation is to listen to and repeat spoken English. Accent reduction textbooks and workbooks for advanced ESL (English as Second Language) students also have written exercises that can help you understand English intonation better.
- Listen to sound combinations: In normal spoken English, sounds are often blended or linked together. For instance, “Won’t you?” often sounds “Wonchoo?” when spoken. This sound blending is correct, natural, and not lazy speech. Pronouncing each word clearly works, but to be fluent with your chosen English accent, you must also learn how to blend these sounds.
- Clearly pronounce endings of words: Many students of English have a hard time pronouncing word endings like “s,” “ed,” and “t.” For example, “can’t” becomes “can” or “girls” becomes “girl.” Take your time pronouncing these word endings, because they may greatly alter the thought of your sentences. In the case of can’t, if you’re not comfortable saying it, try saying “cannot” instead. You may do this until you’ve perfected saying the word “can’t” clearly.
- Use audio books and surf the Web: Audio books or tapes help a lot in teaching you how to properly pronounce words. You can borrow these tapes from the local library or purchase them. The Internet is also a great tool to help you get to know your preferred accent more. Lots of websites have videos that clearly show you how the lips move when pronouncing combinations of consonants and vowels. Try to duplicate the sounds that you hear, and you will eventually feel comfortable saying difficult words.
- Practice with poetry and tongue-twisters: The English language you learn from textbooks and audio CDs is mostly very clean and structured. While this will help you in the early stages of your training, you need more advanced reference materials as you go along. Reading tongue-twisters and poems is a good trick to fast-track your accent training since these materials have more flexibility and changes in intonation.
- Use a good, old dictionary: A dictionary may not exactly tell you how a word is pronounced, but it points you at the right direction on how to say a word. If you think you’re not pronouncing a word correctly, just grab a dictionary and see if your pronunciation is close or not. Later, you may ask a native speaker how to pronounce that particular word just to be sure you understand what the dictionary says. In addition, there are “online dictionaries” on the Internet that have libraries of pronunciation recordings that you can listen to.
- Be patient: The truth is, learning a second accent or language is much harder for adults than it is for children. If you grew up in a different place and you’re trying to remove your native tongue’s accent, the entire process could take a very long time, even years. Don’t be too hard on yourself if there seems to be no improvement after the first month. Just continue on your training routine, and give yourself a pat on the back for every English conversation you’ve handled well. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable speaking with your chosen accent and on your way to fluency.
Getting rid of an accent may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Lots of people have done it before, and some of them can even switch back to their native accent if they want to. You can do the same very soon if you practice every day and keep your focus.
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