So, you want to learn a new language. That’s great!
But, the hardest part about learning a new language isn’t always just the vocabulary, or even the foreign sounds and structures.
For learners beginning to make the jump from beginner level to intermediate level, these strengths and difficulties are guaranteed change. As a beginner, the hardest part for you was probably getting used to the pronunciation and learning new words. However, now as an intermediate learner, you are more comfortable with the language itself but your accent might be making you a bit more self conscious when speaking with natives.
I find this very true for myself. Before I improved my Chinese accent, every lesson with my teacher was one of shyness and sometimes embarrassment. My accent compared to my teacher’s put me to shame. I sounded the exact same as I did when I spoke English, just saying foreign words.
Lucky for you, I’ve already been through this struggle and can offer you a solution to fix this problem faster. Learning a foreign language is a very fun thing, and it is my goal to help you focus more on the fun than on the little problems such as accents.
While it might seem impossible at the moment, improving your accent in a foreign language is actually quite easy and can be achieved very fast.
Improving your accent in a foreign language is more important than you might think.
Foreign accents are something that should be more heavily focused on in the intermediate phases of language learning.
The reason for this is, when you get to the advanced levels of your target language, it is beneficial that you already have the accent part mastered and aren’t being held back by it.
Foreign languages are very exciting, intriguing, and interesting, but they are also an adjustment.
By this I mean it takes a while to naturally transition from the way you speak your mother tongue to the way you speak a foreign language.
Even the easiest language to learn is guaranteed to bring out a nice little accent in you. It’s just the truth: there’s no escaping accents. And sadly, it is also something that your typical foreign language classes don’t offer much help with.
I don’t think you need anymore convincing that improving your accent is just a part of learning a foreign language. Now, let’s get into why it’s so important and why you should work on improving it.
For one, having a terrible accent that you are ashamed of holds you back from the learning process, and the fun parts!
As I said earlier, before I improved my Chinese accent, every time I had a lesson with my teacher or a conversation with a native speaker I would get shy and constantly be shaming myself the entire time for sounding so “American” when speaking Mandarin. I started noticing that it was holding me back, taking away from the experience, and taking my focus off of the conversation and the material I was being taught.
Also, it’s just part of fluency. You can’t expect to reach native level fluency in a language if you can’t be understood when speaking it.
If you find that native speakers are having a hard time understanding you, it’s probably because of your accent. I can’t tell you how many times I have been tutoring an English student and I can’t figure out what they’re trying to tell me because they have such a strong accent. Finally, I had to get them to type it out to me on Skype so I could read the word myself, then help them with their pronunciation.
While this was a huge frustration for the students, it was also an embarrassment, even though I wasn’t judging. I expect each student I talk to to have a foreign accent, it’s not their mother tongue. However, when your accent is becoming a stumbling block in your learning is when it is time to kick it in the butt.
Improving your accent is also WAY easier than you might think.
How easy can learning a new language actually get?
I’ve shared my experience about just how easy it was for me to learn Spanish within just 30 days in many of my blog posts, even without denying the occasional hard parts.
By now you might be thinking that it can’t get any easier than this. But low and behold, here’s another thing that many language learners make extremely hard but is actually insanely easy: improving your foreign accent!
According to studies, infographics, and “the experts”, it is said that learning a simple language such as Spanish, French, or German requires a minimum of about 600 classroom hours to gain a sustaining amount of vocabulary–not even fluency!
However, I improved my Chinese accent within just a few weeks.
Sounds crazy, right?
Well, here’s the thing: it all depends on how much of a priority it is to you, how bad your accent already is, and the method you use in approaching it.
Many people complain of their accent for years, because all they are doing is hoping that it will fix itself.
Well let me tell you this: it won’t.
Just like learning new vocabulary, grammar points, and sentence structures, improving your accent doesn’t happen over night nor on its own. It takes some effort put in by you. That is what determines whether you’re going to be stuck with this accent for years or for a few more days.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather choose just a few more days!
So, here are a few tips on how you can start improving your accent today and see the results almost instantly.
1. Perfect Your Pronunciation
If your pronunciation is still off and you find that your teachers or native speakers are still having to correct you, this is of course a sign of, well, bad pronunciation.
Pronunciation plays perhaps the biggest role in an accent.
The way you pronounce words is the way they are going to sound coming out of your mouth.
Nine out of ten times, it isn’t your “accent” that you should be concerned about, but rather your pronunciation.
Luckily, this is a quick and easy fix, if you go about it the right way. Simply look up pronunciation charts online or find videos or audios of different words and sounds, pronounced by native speakers, at slow speeds for you to repeat.
I also keep the first section of my language notebook specifically for pronunciation guides. Write down the different consontants, vowels, dipthongs, and diagraphs of your target language and then write out how you would pronounce them using English letters.
For example, in Portuguese, the double letters “rr” makes the sound of an “h” in English, so I wrote both of those things down in my Portuguese notebook.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen all of my recent Portuguese challenge updates. If so, I said countless times that so far the pronunciation has been the biggest setback for me, whereas with Chinese it wasn’t because I started so young and Spanish it wasn’t because I was raised in a Latino home.
Overall, you need to make sure that your pronunciation is top-notch before worrying about an accent, because most likely, your pronunciation is what’s causing it.
2. Mimic Native Speakers
This has by far been one of the most helpful tactics I have used for mastering my language accent. Plus, you can literally do this drill any time and anywhere.
For example, if you are having a lesson with your teacher, any time she introduces you to a new word or phrase, repeat it after her…over and over and over again. Ask her for double and triple reassurance. Trust me, she won’t mind, that’s what she’s there for after all!
Another great way to do this is by watching and listening to any type of audio in your target language. I do this with YouTube videos the most. Watch a native speaker’s vlog channel or a News episode from the country of your language and repeat after the native speakers continually. Try to sound exactly like them, as much as you can.
Really take note of the way your mouth feels and where your tongue is. This will help with muscle memory, so that when it’s time for you to speak again, your mouth knows exactly what to do!
3. Record Yourself Speaking
It is important that you hear yourself after you’ve spoken, not just while you’re speaking.
This lets you hear exactly what native speakers hear when you’re talking to them in your target language.
So, record yourself talking. Talk about literally anything and everything. Then, replay it and listen to it, taking note of where you sound different and what sounds you struggle with the most.
The more you speak, the better you will become at it. That’s pretty common sense, but also very commonly overlooked. If you continue to speak your target language but with a harder focus on how you sound, your accent will improve drastically.
4. Tackle Your Weak Spots
Now, it’s time to implement strategy.
It’s one thing to know where you are lacking and to actually work on those weak spots. Approach language learning in general just like you would approach working out: you don’t “work out” your strong spots, you don’t get a good exercise. Instead, you work on your weak spots to make them stronger.
It’s the exact same with language learning.
Obviously, your accent is one of your weakest points. But if it is pronunciation you lack, tackle pronunciation. If you’re just too shy to speak so you speak badly, tackle your shyness and talk more. If you sound extremely different from native speakers, mimic them.
Incorporate these into your study routine and I guarantee you, you will see fast results.
Your accent is part of your personality.
Even though we’ve been talking a lot about changing and “fixing” your accent, it is important to know that in order to fix your weak spots, you’ve got to embrace them.
Truly one of the most amazing parts about learning a foreign language is taking on a second personality. Your new language is also a new part of you. It’s so important that you choose to embrace every part of that and don’t take any of it for granted. If you do, you’re missing out on the whole adventure.
Your accent when speaking a new language is part of your new personality. And while it can be a stumbling block at times and is definitely something that deserves attention, you should know that it’s never going to be perfect.
You aren’t a native speaker, you weren’t born speaking this language, and you probably don’t live surrounded by people who do. While it is possible to achieve native-like pronunciation and accent, it doesn’t determine fluency.
My pronunciation in Chinese is on point, I sound much less “American” when I speak it, and I’m hardly ever misunderstood because of my accent anymore, but I’m always going to have my voice.
That’s what an accent really is: it’s your new voice. It’s your unique voice that makes you stand out among the crowd of regular people.
One of my favorite quotes is by Amy Chua. She said, “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.”