When you hear most second-language speakers, even the most advanced learners often retain at least a hint of their native accent. There are a very determined minority, however, who manage to overcome this final hurdle, adding the native-sounding accent of their second language; the cherry on their exquisite linguistic cake.
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Gaining a pitch-perfect accent in your target language is not essential for communication. You can make yourself understood and enjoy fruitful and meaningful communications with other speakers. That said, as you're learning, you can develop a native-sounding accent following some simple steps, and perfect it over time.
Here are our top tips for honing and perfect your second-language accent!
💬 #1 Practice with native speakers
We try not to toot our own horn too much, but this is pretty key to developing a native accent. When you want the most authentic, accurate and natural accent to work with, there’s no one better than a native-speaker teacher. Some non-native speakers may have nailed the accent in their own way, but they’ll never truly attain the level of ‘natural’ that natives enjoy. That’s just a fact of life in language learning.
Even one hour every few weeks with a native speaker can do wonders for your accent. Obviously, the more exposure you can manage, the better, but just do as much as you are able.
👂 #2 It’s often in the vowels
Vowel sounds are the key to many accents. When you study various languages and accents, you may notice quite a few similarities in consonant sounds, but it’s the vowels that vary greatly. The French word “Cher” (expensive) and the Chinese word “Che” (car) may start with exactly the same letters, but the vowel sound, in particular, is wildly different.
This isn’t to say that consonants are all the same, but it’s the vowels in which the accent is heard most keenly. You know immediately the difference between British “received pronunciation” and standard American English, for example, when each says the word “glass” and hits the ‘a’ sound.
😝 #3 Use tongue twisters
You may dread the idea of trying to get your head around something like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…” at speed, or “Zehn Ziegen zogen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo…” in German. It does seem that every language comes with its own selection of tongue twisters, and their real value is in helping you master pronunciation like a native.
Since tongue twisters are focused on particular vowel and consonant sounds, and has them concentrated in single sentences, it becomes a form of intensive pronunciation training that will do wonders for you when your quest is to boost your accent.
🦜 #4 Imitate native cadence
When listening to native speakers, either in a classroom setting or through media like movies and TV shows, pay special attention to their cadence. Each language has its own unique signature; a special rhythm, blend of tones and an overall texture that if you study carefully you can copy.
Once you master the typical cadence of a sentence in your target language, you’ll find words fall more naturally into place, thus facilitating better, more natural and native-like pronunciation. If you endeavor to speak a foreign language in the same cadence as your mother tongue, you’ll always sound like a foreigner.
🎙️ #5 Record yourself and make comparisons
As most people’s karaoke performances prove, our own viewpoint on what our voices sound like is not to be trusted. This is where audio recording comes in handy. You may hate the sound of your voice when recorded, but it’s the only way to be sure of accuracy when you want to check your accent progress.
Record your voice imitating your target accent, and then compare it to source material from your native-speaker teacher, or a piece of media you’ve been using. It will give you a more objective result on whether or not you are getting closer to your goal.
That's it for our top tips! Developing a native-sounding accent takes time and practice, so don't worry too much about it in your initial stages (and even further along) of learning a language. Just keep these tips in mind, and over time your accent will improve without you even noticing it.
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