The 4 Biggest Accent Reduction Mistakes People Make
Recently one of my students asked me this question. “What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to reduce their accent in English?” I listed about 4 for him. He found that he was doing the right thing sometimes but just not enough, and other things were new to him.
Take a look for yourself and see what you think.
1) People often don’t know what to change, and how to change it to be clearer in English
People often do a great job changing the most obvious things to speak English more clearly but then don’t know what to do next.
Then they spend time continuing to work on things they don’t need to change. Knowing what to work on makes the process quicker and more effective.
Often this happens because it is hard to ‘hear’ yourself and what errors you’re making as it’s automatic for you to speak that way.
Or, you may know what to change but don’t know how to change it.
For example I have had a skype lesson with people who don’t realise they are saying ‘ah’ (the sound the Doctor asks you to say when he looks in your throat) for ‘a’-‘hahv’ for have ;
or another client didn’t realise they were saying ‘ch’ for ‘j’ – ‘chump’ for jump’; others can’t hear that they aren’t using English melody and so can’t be understood very well.
What to do about this?
-Record yourself saying exactly the same thing as a native English speaker- this could be a friend or the trainer on our course – and compare how you sound to the person.
Notice the detail of every word and where there is a difference.
-Have a lesson with an accent coach and have them go through what you need to work on and how to change it, and go away and practice. I also offer pronunciation assessments as well.
-Ask a native English speaking person to listen and tell you what they notice you need to work on.
2) People don’t listen and repeat
Sometimes people tell me that they listen to native English speakers all the time but their speech isn’t becoming clearer.
One man I worked with said he had been listening to English radio for years, but his speech in English hadn’t become clearer. He was quite quite frustrated and upset about this!
I asked him if he had been listening and then repeating after the speaker, and he told me he had only been listening.
To change an accent you need to listen and repeat after the listener. You need to mimic them exactly and pretend you speak like them.
The reason for this is so your mouth can get used to moving in the new way. You are training your mouth muscles to remember to move in the new way automatically.
You need to do this a lot. One person I know was often found walking around the house doing their chores listening and ‘talking’ to themselves- they were listening to the audio trainer on their MP3 player and copying and repeating. This made a huge difference to the speed with which they became clearer.
3) People don’t spend long enough on each element for clearer pronunciation
If you try to work on everything at once, often none of it becomes automatic in everyday speech in English.
It is more efficient to choose one or two elements and work on those till they are automatic, and then move onto something else.
With bigger or more complex elements of pronunciation it may even be better to choose one thing and work on that.
For example vowels are more complex, because unlike consonants, the placement of your tongue etc isn’t as clear or defined. So you may want to chose one vowel to work on till it is automatic in your speech and then move on.
Another area that is more complex is stress patterning in English. This of course is important in speaking English more smoothly and flowing. (see my previous blog for more detail on how to
As soon as you begin to make even one element automatic in your speech, you will see how much clearer you become with your accent in English.
Suddenly, you will notice that all these separate elements come together and you will be surprised how others understand you much better when you speak English.
4) People don’t consciously use their new English pronunciation in everyday situations
Once you have mastered a particular pronunciation or speech element then it’s time to use it in the outside world!
I have worked with people who have mastered an element of their accent in English when they are practicing by themselves or with me, but then don’t feel comfortable using it in the outside world.
Or they just don’t consciously use it in their everyday life when they talk to other people. To make a difference you need to consciously use your new clear accent in English all the time!
Set yourself little goals or games.
Use it when you talk on the phone, when you go to a shop, or when you speak to a work colleague. Write a note and put it up where you can see it to remind you to practice. I have even had people write something on the back
of their hand to remind themselves to use their new clearer pronunciation in their everyday life!
Use it or lose it as they say.