How to Improve Your Accent
Are you tired of people asking you to repeat because they don’t understand you? Your friends say, “Just do this!” and they expect you to make the sound! Would you like to learn once and for all what to do with your lips, tongue and mouth to make the sounds of English?
Do you feel that everything sounds the same? You know you are pronouncing the words wrong; you know that you are pausing too much; you know that when you talk, it doesn’t sound like English, but you don’t know what to do.
Wouldn’t you like to learn once and for all what are the most common errors that people make when they learn English so you could concentrate on those errors.
First of all, you have to realize that an accent is made up of three parts: intonation, liaisons, and pronunciation.
You have to learn the “rules” of these three components of your new language. The work “rule” is in quotes because in speech all “rules” may be broken by native speakers in special circumstances. Still, if a “rule” helps you 9 times out of ten, you shouldn’t complain if it fails you once.
Intonation is the most important and the most difficult to change. It is the “music”, the rhythm or a language.
Liaisons, or linkages, are the ways that words and parts of words are linked together in a language. This may be very different from how you do it in your native language.
And pronunciation is the way that sounds are made in the new language. These sounds may be similar (rarely exactly the same) to the sounds of your own language, or they may be very different. To learn the sounds, you have to learn where in the mouth the sound is made, how it is made, and the position of the tongue in making the sound.
Most people do not work on their accents. Some achieve very good, even perfect, accents after living many years in their new country or by using their new language for many years.
However, this is not automatic. There are many people who spend years using a language and never get rid of a heavy accent.
Often, it doesn’t matter to the person. If they live in an immigrant community, sometimes it is even a negative thing to achieve a good accent in the new language. This is because friends and family might think that one is trying to forget their origins.
But if you live and work among people who speak the new language well, you should work at improving your accent. Unfortunately, some people make judgments about your worth and your intelligence according to how well you speak their language. Read what the Chinese American writer Amy Tan says about her own feelings about her mother’s accent:
Lately, I’ve been giving more thought to the kind of English my mother speaks. Like others, I have described it to people as “broken” or “fractured” English. But I wince when I say that. It has always bothered me that I can think of no way to describe it other than “broken,” as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness and soundness. I’ve heard other terms used, “limited English,” for example. But they seem just as bad, as if everything is limited, including people’s perceptions of the limited English speaker.
I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother’s “limited” English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect. And 1 had plenty of evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.
If even a daughter can think that her mother is limited because of her limited English, you can be sure that other people think this way also. So you should start improving your accent.
You can go to a specialist who can work with you. This is the best way but it can be expensive. You can use recordings and courses to imporve your accent. This can be as good as working with the expert IF YOU DO IT! It is just like the difference between having exercise equipment in your house and using a personal trainer. The trick is to do it.
You can start with this little exercise to get used to working on your accent. First, try this: Listen to recordings of how people who speak your language pronounce English or whatever language you are learning. Next, make a recording of your own voice. Compare, do it over, see if that helps a little.
PRONUNCIATION: AN IMPORTANT PART OF ACCENT
Proper pronunciation is only one of the parts of a good accent and maybe not even the most important one (many linguists think that intonation is the most important part of a correct accent). But pronunciation is where a learner of a new language can make the best progress. The correct Pronunciation of the sounds of a new language CAN be learned!
Of course, it takes listening and practice but one little tip for English is to recall that the “long” vowels in English, like the “e” in May, the “o” in toe, have a little “slide” at their end, either a “y” or a “u”. That is why an English speaker ends up “smiling” after a word ending with a “long a”, or “puckering” after an “o”. The mouth of speakers of other languages barely move when he pronounces their vowels.
Here’s another trick that might help you pronounce English correctly. The consonants “p” and “t” are pronounced with a puff of air in English. All you have to do to make a huge jump in your English is to practice saying words with these letters, such as Peter, pepper, table, etc. with a lit match in front of your mouth. If the match goes out, you’re speaking English.
Obviously the two examples just given are brief and crude explanations only meant to open the discussion that will be presented more carefully in the recommendations you will find in the lists on this page. The most important thing to realize is that Accent is more than Pronunciation!