A lot of students at SGI have asked me how they can lose their accent. Well, firstly it’s a very difficult thing to do and probably more importantly, is it even necessary to lose your accent and try to speak Received Pronunciation like the Queen? 43 There are hundreds of different accents of native speakers of English. We can instantly recognise if someone comes from Glasgow in Scotland, Sydney in Australia, New York in America, New Delhi in India: are any of these accents ‘wrong’? They all belong to native speakers! When students say that they want to speak RP, do they know that this accent is only spoken by a small minority in England and also has some negative connotations (as well as some positive ones)? Also, what is the point of trying to learn a native-like accent, when for the majority of students the only people that they are likely to communicate with will also be non-native speakers? I think the goal for nearly all English language students might be better termed as not to ‘lose your accent’, but to be able to communicate effectively and to be understood. OK, you might want to look at certain sounds that you are pronouncing and make them nearer to a native speaker to help being understood. For example, Japanese speakers might want to try to improve their pronunciation of /l/ and /r/, German speakers could try to differentiate between /ʒ/ and /ʤ/, Spanish speakers could concentrate on /i:/ and /ɪ/, Russian speakers could look at /θ/ and /ð/ and so on. But if you are really motivated to lose your accent, then here are a few tips:
- Become aware of the sound differences between the way you are pronouncing sounds now and the way that they are produced in the target accent that you are trying to copy. English has got 26 letters in the alphabet, but 44 phonemes (or sounds) that you need to learn to speak with a ‘correct accent’. You need to know the position of the parts in your mouth for each of these phonemes.
- Listen to a native speaker. Easier said than done, I know. But by using the internet, there are lots of ways to find examples of spoken native speech. You can listen to BBC radio (not just the boring World Service, you can find and listen to any of the BBC radio stations here…), watch your favourite TV comedy series and soak up millions of YouTube videos.
- Record yourself saying a short piece of spoken language that you can compare to native speech. So, maybe find a short YouTube video of speech that you like and then see how closely you can copy that accent. See where the differences are and slowly try to change the way that you say things to be closer to your target accent. You don’t need expensive equipment for this. Here’s some free recording software…
- Speak with stress timing. Some languages are syllable-timed languages, where equal strength is given to each sound: English isn’t like that. Normally, we only stress the important words in a sentence and don’t give such importance to the ‘grammar words’, which we say very quickly.
Another option in trying to lose your accent is to come to SGI for summer school and actually be in London, where you can hear lots of ‘good’ English from the fantastic teachers! Good luck!