Why Your Accent Doesn’t Matter (That Much)

a Mark twain quote

Many of my former students have dreamed about speaking English like the Queen or like an American action movie star, but this can be very hard to do. Even advanced students with perfect grammar still don’t always have native sounding English accents.

As Mark Twain wrote, “I have traveled more than any one else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent”.

Accents can be a good thing. Even foreign accents. Think about Arnold Schwarzenegger who is famous in part for his accent. French, Italian and Spanish accents are often portrayed as attractive voices to the opposite sex. One of my favourite comedians, Russell Peters, is famous because of his ability to imitate different accents. Remember, not all native English speakers sound the same and even we have trouble understanding each other sometimes!

You should only be concerned about your accent if people have serious difficulty in understanding what you say. This is when your accent is impacting your ability to give presentations in English. Even in this instance your goal shouldn’t be accent elimination, but accent reduction. If you do a simple Google search for accent reduction you will find many companies offering courses and books on the subject. Not all of them are worth their large price tag.

Here are a few tips if you are concerned that your accent prevents you from being understood:

  • Focus on one goal at a time. It may be the rhythm and stress in question sentences or a certain consonant sound. It is easier to think about one thing  and constantly trying to improve that rather than thinking about too many things at one time and not really improving any of them.
  • Watch and listen to native language material often. If you have time you can try to imitate famous actors or speakers. Repeat some of their famous lines and record yourself. With practice you should able to better imitate their accent. You can read about how Dr Seuss can also help improve your pronunciation in a previous post.
  • Sing! I had one colleague that strongly believed that singing in the shower to classic American songs had improved his English accent. Apparently, this is no longer anecdotal evidence, a study has shown that when you are learning a new language singing can help and not just with pronunciation.
  • Speak slower. In many cases your accent will be easier to understand if you speak slower.
  • Ask native English speakers to help you. If you have a trusted friend that you feel comfortable with, ask them to correct you if you mispronounce any words. They probably won’t correct you if you don’t ask, as this is considered rude.

Remember it can take a long time and lots of effort to improve your accent, so be patient.

How have you improved your English accent or pronunciation? Let us know in the comments below.

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