“So, how long have you been studying English?” Even if you’ve studied a language for years and follow a well-designed study routine, it’s likely that at some point you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of this well-intentioned question while conversing with native speakers. What gave it away? Probably your accent!
Mastering a foreign accent is one of the most challenging aspects of learning a language, particularly when the target language is from a different language family than your native one. There are many ways to improve your accent, but practice, patience, and time are key in all of them. Here are 10 ways to get started improving your accent:
- Start your learning journey with a native speaking instructor. We frequently — and happily! — share tools and sites for independent learning on this blog, but our #1 piece of advice is to use those tools to supplement or follow class instruction or private tutoring. Learning with an instructor from the get-go saves you from making the all-too-easy initial mistakes that will be much harder to correct later on. Connect with a language instructor from the start and you’ll be tackling pronunciation challenges from day one… meaning your accent will need less improvement overall.
- Watch movies and TV shows, and listen to radio in the target language. While it won’t make a difference overnight, subconsciously absorbing the sounds of a spoken language will gradually impact your brain’s ability to imitate accents. Prioritize media that is made for native speakers rather than language learning materials, which tend to be overly didactic and less natural.
- When listening or speaking with natives, pay close attention to the rhythm of speech. In addition to the accent itself, the delivery of words can make your speech sound more natural. Certainly try to ensure that you understand what’s being said, but don’t forget to also note how it’s being said.
- Record yourself practicing and play it back to test your accent. We’re all biased, which means that you might think your accent sounds… well, way better than it actually does! Use your smartphone or websites like SoundCloud to record yourself speaking and then listen to the recording, evaluating yourself as objectively as possible on the naturalness of your accent and the cadence of your speech. In doing so you may notice errors in the way you pronounce words or the rhythm you use to deliver sentences — and then be able to self correct. But don’t stop with identifying your errors; if you notice mistakes, keep recording yourself saying the same things until you are able to hear improvement. The popular Internet community site Reddit actually has a subpage called JudgeMyAccent where you can share your recordings for feedback on how to improve your accent from native speakers.
- Ask for feedback. Whether it’s in your language class or while hanging out casually with native speakers, making it clear that you want and appreciate feedback is an important and simple way to improve your accent. Consistent reinforcement and correction will keep you on the right track and keep your spoken language sounding natural.
- Read out loud every day. We’ve talked before about how helpful it can be to incorporate language learning into your daily life, especially through reading in the target language. Reading aloud to yourself on a regular basis will make you feel more confident speaking in the foreign language over time, and focusing on sentences and paragraphs rather than individual words will improve your delivery, which often goes hand-in-hand with improving your accent.
- Practice tongue twisters! Tongue twisters are phrases that repeat the same groups of sounds, making them difficult to pronounce when you say them quickly or multiple times in a row. They’re fun and funny, and they improve your pronunciation and enunciation in a foreign language. To improve your accent, find a list of common tongue twisters in your target language and practice saying them clearly and fluidly… and then, try repeating them faster and faster. For English learners, this video is a good place to start.
- Sing a song. Find a song in your target language that you like, look up the lyrics, and sing along! No matter what your voice sounds like, singing is an ideal way to practice speaking another language in a relaxed way, which will allow you to focus on words and rhythm in equal measure.
- Take it s-l-o-w. Many language learners mistakenly believe that speaking faster will help them sound more fluent. This is not only false, but can actually make you sound worse, as focusing on speaking quickly gives you less time to process your sentences and often hurts your pronunciation. To improve your accent, speak more slowly. You’ll sound more thoughtful and confident, and you’ll be able to make sure your accent and enunciation are clear and well-delivered.
- Be patient and don’t give up! Language learning is a lifelong journey, and while your accent won’t improve overnight, it will improve with time and practice. So cut yourself some slack and take pride in even slight improvements in your pronunciation. If you’re incorporating the strategies we’ve shared here into your language review, you’re well on your way to developing a natural accent.
Did we miss any techniques that have helped you improve your accent? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!