Learning a language is a long journey, and even after many years of dedication it can still feel like you're far from arriving.
One of the milestones we hope to hit along the way is to start creating a 'perfect accent' in another language, so we can fit in well. But how is that done? Hear all about it on this episode of the Fluent Show.
After I shared my own story of learning English to a very high level on an episode of the Fluent Show’s episode 96, listener William sent me a very interesting question.
It’s about a classic problem when you’re learning a language: how do you sound good? How can you fit in with your accent?
Here's what he wrote in his question:
I'm learning English (and French) in Canada, I'm very happy with my progress so far. I'm a self-touch learner and I spend most of my time for listening and reading. For about 2 years learning from scratch, now I'm able to read books I love and listen to any audio source without much struggles. But still, I feel the "isolation" since I have not have a great intonation and accent yet. As you said that it could have affects on learner's self-confidence. So I hope you could share some thoughts on the topic in a future episode, how you do it and what is the right mindset to acquire the native accent.
William is so smart because he recognised the core feeling that’s the problem here. It’s not about being understood anymore or about having access to conversations, now it’s about blending in and feeling at ease, personally. I have a lot of empathy for that desire, because even after 15 years in the UK I still can’t seem to blend in like a local. And every now and then it bothers me, because it directs the conversation to me, or something about me, or something I don’t want to focus on at that moment. So even after all this time...people still pick up that I’m from somewhere else, and there are certain sounds that I will “Germanize”, especially when I’m very tired.
Tips For Improving Your Accent
Working on your accent in another language is best reserved for those levels where you are communicating comfortably. It's not the same as studying the pronunciation rules of a language, which comes at the start and will help you understand words and rhythm. The accent you want to acquire is all about blending in with the people you hear and speak to on a regular basis, so that you can feel like you belong with that group.
There are specific exercises and accent work activities that you can do, and most of them are focused on listening intently and echoing what you here.
Here are four principles that will help you as you work on improving your accent:
Listen & echo. Fine-tuning your accent starts with hearing many details of the accent you want to acquire, so listen intently and identify specific sounds that you want to get.
Tinker. Focus on individual expressions instead of trying to fix it all at once. It can sound inauthentic when you try to create a full "accent profile" for yourself, so instead think of it like tiny iterations of your existing language.
Harmonize. Continue to listen to others even while you are producing language, and try to monitor your speech as you talk.
Look and feel. Consider mouth shapes, learn the IPA if you wish, but most importantly observe and feel where in the mouth different expressions are formed. When you echo what you hear, think about how it feels in your mouth.
Finally, you can also find a language coach who specialises in accent work and who will help you improve through recorded speech, individual feedback and specialised challenges.
Online Courses For Getting a Great Accent
My recommendation for German learners is my Accent & Pronunciation Masterclass Course. This course is designed for foreign natives who want to sound authentic and understand German words with ease. The course is great because it
- Works with mouth shapes
- Focuses on sounds and how they’re formed
- Provides consistent rules that help you make sense of German
- Considers you as an English speaker - knows what you tend to get wrong
For English learners, these two courses from Elena Mutonono will be a great resource and cover the essential topics you need to know about, like connected speech.
And in French, I have a wonderful recommendation from my muse française, Géraldine Lepere, who has a great Vocabulary and Pronunciation Program.
3 Mindset Tips for Accent Work
Finally, I've got a few important notes regarding the mindset to adopt when you are working on improving your foreign accent.
There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to learning a foreign language or working on a foreign accent. Some people do work on improving how good they sound and how well they fit in. But bear in mind that striving for perfection would be like aiming for a moving target - impossible to hit and impossible to maintain!
Consider these three mindset tips to ensure that you're working on your accent without expecting unreasonable things from yourself:
Don’t compare up, i.e. don't compare yourself to better speakers than yourself. Everyone's voice and accent are absolutely unique.
Don’t obsess over fixing everything at once - instead remember that the trick is to tinker and iterate your improvements.
Pay attention to how other people say things. If you do hear something that sounds great in your target language, echo it and use it for yourself. There's no 'stealing' in accents.
Do You Feel Great About Accent?
Have you tried to lose your foreign accent in a target language? How did it go? Share your story in the comments, and don't forget you can send podcast feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the show on Twitter.
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