Five Innovative Ways to Perfect Your Accent in a Foreign Language

The best feeling when you are abroad happens when the taxi driver tells you that he can hardly tell you have an accent or when someone raises their eyebrows when you tell them that you are, in fact, from another country. Of course, this is difficult to achieve and to be honest, it is near impossible to shake off an accent if you have learnt the language in question as an adult. Nevertheless, accent is vital if you want authentic dialogue. However, there are ways you can improve your accent in any given language and ways to delay giving your origin away by taking the following steps:

1. Pronunciation

This is comprised of a variety of factors, including word emphasis, intonation, prosody (the melody of the language), and expressions you use and how you use them. Your foreign accent begins to sound all the more foreign when you have not tapped into the local way of speaking. Most languages we learn are phonetic so are pronounced exactly how they sound, so it would make logical sense that once you have mastered one type of pronunciation, you have mastered them all. However, whilst this is true on a simple level, each language has sounds that are not necessarily shared with other languages and this is where we can fall flat. The Spanish ‘j’, the French ‘r’, or the Greek ‘g’ are just some examples where we can show our  roots. In this case, practice really can change a lot, so identify the main culprits (usually consonants) and keep saying them aloud until you have a perfect imitation. A little like learning your lines for a part!

2. Find a native friend

Obviously, this has many benefits but when trying to perfect the local accent, the mere repetition of difficult sounds can be of huge importance and can mean speedy improvements very early on. They will need to be patient, as your mouth and throat are simply not used to maneuvering in that manner and you will need a lot of repetition. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask them to enunciate and speak slowly whilst paying attention to the movements their lips make.

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3. Learn phonetics

Human speech uses a total of 800 phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound in language. An example is the English phoneme /k/, which is used in words such as cat and kit. Learning a little about the International Phonetic Alphabet is a good way to start learning about pronunciation, as it represents all the phonemes of human speech. In actual fact, the IPA is used to represent sounds in some dictionaries, as in news‧pa‧per  /ˈnuzˌpeɪ pər/.So, learning the phoneme for certain sounds can help translate the foreign into the familiar.

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4. Visualize tones

If you are learning a tonal language like Mandarin, you need to find a way to visualize the tones to associate them with each syllable. You could imagine a series of shelves for each tone and assign each one a number for the specific tone. Find your own pictures of buildings, places, games or anything else so that you can associate each tone to something specific and organized.

5. Use your voice

You need to develop enough confidence to use your voice, pay attention to the response and take heed of feedback. Observe native speakers interacting, especially socially. How are their voices when they greet each other? TV and movies can, of course, supplement this study but the best way is to jump in and exaggerate every sound that your mouth makes in the new language to exercise just as you would train for a sport. Designing mini-recorded speeches is another way to improve the quality of your accent over time, due to the fact that the same mouth muscles are trained over time.

Perfecting an accent can, at times be frustrating but try to foster that curiosity and wonder that learning the language always unleashes. If you would like to learn more about accents and learning a new language, make an enquiry here or take a language level test to see where you are!

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