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Want to wear out your foreign accent and speak like a native? If you're learning English, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, or French, here are the tips to reduce your accent.
Communication barriers appear in all languages. Even native speakers have a linguistic misunderstanding every once in a while.
For learners, accent from their native tongue gets in their way when pronouncing words in a foreign language. It’s a common thing among polyglot speakers to wonder how to lose a foreign accent.
Accents form when you learn a language. Your native tongue serves as the most significant influence on how your accent develops.
Is it possible to erase your accent completely?
What are the best ways to improve your speech and articulation for the following languages - English, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and French?
That’s what we’ll find out today!
In its basic definition, an accent is how someone sounds when they speak. When learning a new language (language B), the brain speeds up the process by comparing sounds to your native tongue (language A).
When there’s a unique sound in language B, the brain picks the best option to produce this sound from language A.
An excellent example of this is when French speakers ignore the /h/ sound because it doesn’t exist in their language. Attempts to recreate the /h/ sound would create funny-sounding words until the learner gets properly trained to pronounce it.
Since accent is often a regional thing, native speakers can tell if you’re not a local just by your speeches.
The situation can get worse or better depending on your native language. You’ll have an easier time if language A and language B are very similar to each other.
There’s still hope in getting your accent better. It also depends on the language that you want to focus more on.
Like other skills, accents are learned through practice and regular use. The more you use an accent, the better you’ll sound in a conversation. This concept is also true to the opposite: your accent fades away when you don’t use it.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re “losing” it. Instead, accents change and accommodate the ones being used more often. This change usually happens when you’re learning a new language.
You’re picking up another accent that becomes your unique daily accent.
And since the accent is affected by pronunciation, that’s where you should focus all the practice.
By practicing your pronunciation, you’re replacing your foreign accent (from language A) with native ones (language B).
Not all languages have the same hardships in adjusting accent.
There are certain times when two languages are extreme opposites, making the accent reduction a little more complicated.
Overall, to lose your foreign accent, get familiar with the rules of the language being learned. Immerse yourself with movies, shows, and songs. Find a mentor or a study partner (preferably a native speaker).
Sites like JustLearn make sure that all instructors and mentors have a native speaker’s proficiency.
We compiled some of the hardest pronunciation for these commonly studied languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and French.
Here are some of the specific ways to “lose” your foreign accent based on each language’s most challenging difficulties.
English has 160 distinct accents used throughout the world. The most popular ones are Cockney, Yorkshire, Irish, Scottish, Scouse, and American. You can learn all of these accents, but no one would recommend it, and here’s why.
Imagine using the Scottish accent after delivering a mixed Yorkshire-Cockey in just one sentence. There’s a big chance that you would confuse your listener because of your mixed-up accents. Focus on one field and become a master in it.
Because English is a stress-timed language, the length of the sentences vary. The stressed syllable is usually pronounced longer, making uneven pacing throughout the sentence.
It’s the opposite of a syllable-timed language like Spanish and Italian. An excellent practice to improve your English accent is knowing how to apply stress in the right syllable.
Here’s a quick tip: nouns and adjectives with two syllables should get the stress in the first one. This is a subtle change but yields good results.
The majority of beautiful and romantic English words are also hard to pronounce. And more likely than not, these words include syllables that have the “L,” “R,” or “TH” sound on them.
Here are the proper ways to produce these sound clearly:
L sound - choose a word that starts with “L” (e.g., lamp) and try to pronounce it. Your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth when making the “L” sound, forming a straight line.
R sound - choose a letter that starts with “R” (e.g., rotate). Pull your tongue back to where it rests when you’re not talking. And then, raise the pointy part of your tongue to the top of your mouth without actually touching it, like forming a hook shape.
TH sound - this can be the hardest one in English, as not many languages have the TH sound. To produce this sound correctly, put the tip of your tongue between your upper and lower teeth. Blow a little air as you let go of your tongue.
In most languages, the more syllables a sentence has, the longer it takes for someone to say it.
This timing is called the syllable-timed speech, in which the rhythm of each syllable is the same regarding of word stress.
An example of this is the Spanish language. Instead of saying:
“This is IT!”;
The pacing for Spanish sentences are usually like this:
“This is it.” (dis-is-it)
The pace of your syllables can affect how you sound. Speaking in uneven pacing would be really weird and unnatural for native listeners. Practice the pacing of your syllables, and you would also get a better Spanish accent.
Spanish is one of the languages you can learn on your own. However, it is also one of the hardest to practice when you’re a self-taught speaker. This is due to the uniqueness of its sound and tons of different rules for different words. If you want to be fluent and accent-free, engage in conversations with Spanish native speakers, and study the Spanish linguistic rules.
RR sound - The letter R in Spanish has a thicker sound compared to its English counterpart. To make your R “trill” and get a harder sound, you need to add some air to it. Once again, form your tongue into a hook-like shape. Close your mouth a little bit, and let out a small yet strong breathe from the stomach.
H/J sound - There is no English “J” sound in Spanish since no word uses it. Instead, J is used similarly to English “H”, while the letter “H” is ignored altogether. (e.g., hija is pronounced as ee-ha).
Ñ sound - This letter is called eñe (enye), the combined sound of n+y (e.g., canyon). Get yourself acquainted with Spanish word that uses ñ. And do so on a daily basis until it comes like second nature to you.
Have you ever wonder why Mandarin seems random when you heard it the first time? This is because the tones used in words frequently change. This is called the sandhi tone, in which the tone of each syllable switches based on the adjacent words. It takes a lot of practice, but you can improve your sandhi tone by imitating how native speakers; voice change in a sentence.
Book a lesson with a Chinese tutor to improve your accent.
There’s actually a pattern in the sandhi tone. Some words use the same tone when paired with the same syllable. An example of this is “nihao” and “henhao.” As you study more words, you will more likely find a pattern, making pronunciation and sandhi tone easier.
X sound - X sound in mandarin doesn’t exist in the English language. The closest pronunciation to describe it is the “sh”. Put your tongue down right below your lower front teeth while making the “sh” sound.
Q sound - Q can sometimes be confused with the X “sh” sound, especially when you’re a beginner in Mandarin. This is because Q is very similar to X, but with harder pronunciation that can be described as “ch.”
R sound - To make the Mandarin R sound, borrow the X “sh” and add a vibration toward the end of the syllable. It should sound like “sherr” (for re), “shurr” (for ru), and “shirr” (for ri). Mandarin’s R sound only consists of re, ri, and ru.
Japanese or Nihongo is a very challenging language to start. Unfortunately, unlike other languages, Nihongo’s pronunciation gets even more challenging as you go. English has 44 sounds used throughout the world. But did you know that there are only five or six English sounds that have equivalent in Nihongo?
How do you correct your accent? Record yourself while practicing and see what Japanese words need some fixing in addition to the three horsemen of Nihongo below. It is also important to practice the Japanese vowels (a, i, u, e, o). This is because they can actually make the most significant differences.
You might be tempted to use anime to learn something for pronunciation practice. It’s an entertaining way to learn new Nihongo words and pronunciation. However, when it comes to the accent, it might not be the best option.
Since a lot of voice actors in anime make every word over-enunciated, they sound unnatural in daily Nihongo conversations. According to Anime News Network, speaking like an anime character will give your listener the impression that you’re a radio announcer than an average person.
Anime is still a useful resource for learning Nihongo. But you might want to look for another study material for improving your accent.
R Sound (again) - the R sound takes on different forms in different languages. For Nihongo, it is commonly described as the combination of English L + R. The easiest way to make L+R sound is to pronounce the English “R” with your tongue touching the back of your upper front teeth.
U Sound - In English, “U” is pronounced successfully by forming a circlet with your lips. The Nihongo “U” sound, on the other, has a softer touch and is pronounced by making an “oo” without any lip movement.
N sound - N or ん ca be found on a lot of Japanese words. However, unlike the English “N,” it is considered as another syllable. This rule is why you can sometimes notice the sound ん lingering on each word. ん can be pronounced by making the English “N” sound while touching the roof of your mouth (instead of touching the back of your front teeth).
What makes French a very challenging language to learn is its nasal vowels. The sound usually comes from the vocal cords, and not from the tongue formation. In reality, English has some nasal sound in most of its words (especially words with N, M, and NG). What makes it different in French is the vowels.
Here’s a neat trick to practice nasal vowels: hold the side of your nose and speak. When you say a word with N, M, and NG, there would be a vibration. Any sound that has vowel pronunciation on it will have no vibration. To improve your nasal vowels, practice enunciating any common French word. If you feel vibration even without the N, M, or NG sound, you’re doing better.
One of the reasons why French is a romantic-sounding language is its rhythm: there’s no stress in it. Literally. French is also a syllable-timed language, and Liaisons and Enchainements make words flow smoothly. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most challenging difficulties French language students encounter. Once these two aspects are improved, your rhythm will noticeably be better and more natural-sounding.
Book a lesson with a native French tutor to improve your pronunciation.
R Sound - R seems to be the bane for international students in many languages, including French. The R sound in French comes from the throat, instead of the tongue. Here’s a tip to pronounce the French “R” word: imagine gargling with invisible water while making an English “K” sound. It takes a lot of practice, but you can do it!
H Sound - There are two kinds of “H” sound in the French language, the H Muet, and H Aspiré. Both of these “H” are muted (since “H” is nonexistent in the French language). The best way to tackle this challenge is to know when to use liaisons. Practice on the familiar words first to kickstart your conversational French skills.
The Silent Letters - French is also known for its silent letters at the end of the word. Not all words have muted last letters, which can confuse a lot of students. If this is very daunting, remember that study + practice will pay off.
And that’s it for losing foreign accent tips and tricks. I hope this makes things easier for language learners.
If you’re still having some problems or need some guidance from a native speaker, Justlearn is worth checking out.
Good luck on your language-learning journey.
Like other skills, accents are learned through practice and regular use. The more you use an accent, the better you’ll sound in a conversation. This concept is also true to the opposite: your accent fades away when you don’t use it. But that doesn’t mean that you’re “losing” it. Instead, accents change and accommodate the ones being used more often. This change usually happens when you’re learning a new language. You’re picking up another accent that becomes your unique daily accent. And since the accent is affected by pronunciation, that’s where you should focus all the practice. By practicing your pronunciation, you’re replacing your foreign accent (from language A) with native ones (language B). Not all languages have the same hardships in adjusting accent. There are certain times when two languages are extreme opposites, making the accent reduction a little more complicated. Overall, to lose your foreign accent, get familiar with the rules of the language being learned. Immerse yourself with movies, shows, and songs. Find a mentor or a study partner (preferably a native speaker).
Choose An English Accent First, Know How To Use “Stress” To Your Advantage, Practice The Three Horsemen Of English Sound
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