You walk into a room and as soon as you say the first word, people want to know where you’re from. They don’t mean anything by it. But it’s the same conversation every time and you are probably sick of it by now. You want people to get to know you according to your accomplishments,...
You walk into a room and as soon as you say the first word, people want to know where you’re from. They don’t mean anything by it. But it’s the same conversation every time and you are probably sick of it by now. You want people to get to know you according to your accomplishments, not just where you are from. So you find yourself asking, “How can I reduce my accent?”
You can get rid of your accent and master American pronunciation, but it takes a lot of time and effort. It’s easy for some people, but not for everybody. Even so, everyone has to give attention to the same things to reduce their accent. Here are 6 habits of people with proper pronunciation:
1. Take another look at your pronunciation
Maybe you have been speaking English for a long time, so it feels like you are moving backward if you go back to learning your ABC’s. What’s the point anyway? People can understand you after all. That’s true, but even the smallest differences in pronunciation are what people recognize as an accent. When these differences are bigger, it can even be hard for them to understand you. That’s when people say you have a “thick accent”.
2. Compare similar sounds
One way to improve your pronunciation is to find minimal pairs to practice with. These are words that only have one sound difference between them. When you compare the sounds in the two words, you can train your ear to hear the difference, and train your mouth to pronounce them more clearly. A few examples of these minimal pairs are “sit/seat”, “bad/bed”, and “most/must’. You can practice them to make sure the sounds are distinct and clear. Then, compare your pronunciation to the way native English speakers say it.
3. Listen closely
At first, maybe you can’t hear the difference between your pronunciation of a certain sound and a native speaker’s. But that is a skill that you can train. Look for the little things. The more you learn about each particular sound, the more you will hear it all around you. Then, you can use these observations to work on closing that pronunciation gap.
4. Sing along
Singing along to your favorite songs is a great way to modify your accent and improve your pronunciation. Self-correction happens almost automatically. When you listen to music, you don’t think about the lyrics as much as the melody and the rhythm. So when you sing to it (even if you are a terrible singer), you try to make your voice sound like the artist’s. A lot of the things you hear the singer do with their voice is part of their accent. Really, you are mimicking the singer’s accent.
By singing along, we are teaching ourselves clear pronunciation, diction, timing, rhythm and intonation. Some of these things are suprasegmentals or higher language patterns that can be difficult to learn from a book. So why not sing to the bathroom mirror or to the steering wheel? To be honest, you will probably never sound as good as the Beatles or Beyoncé. But you can teach yourself those native English pronunciation patterns, and have fun while you do it!
5. Get help
With concentration, you can go a long way toward your diction and accent goals on your own. To make real progress, though, you want to get help from someone who has an ear for it. Maybe you have a friend or family member who is good with languages or accents and they can point you in the right direction. Ask them to let you know when they hear you mispronounce something.
But, what if you don’t have someone who can do that? A lot of people ask their friends who have a standard American accent what they are pronouncing wrong and their friend just says, “I don’t know. You just say it funny”. That doesn’t help. It can also be discouraging if the person who offered to help you is laughing at you. Seek out someone who knows what they are doing. Get an accent coach or an ESL teacher who can give you specific feedback. Look for somebody who can tell you what you are pronouncing differently and how you can change it.
6. Follow through
Remember, you are in this for the long haul. There are seemingly infinite words and sounds to learn in the American accent. You may feel at times that you can never learn it all. But, every step takes you closer to your goal. Don’t give up. Even if it takes a long time to get to the point where you have completely rid yourself of your former accent, every little sound you work on will make your speech and pronunciation clearer.
People around you may even notice your improvement before you do. They may not be able to put their finger on exactly what you are pronouncing more clearly, but they start mentioning that it’s easier to understand you. Maybe they don’t say anything to you, but you notice the confused look in their eyes slowly goes away little by little. Then, people stop asking you to repeat yourself so often. These are big steps that call for celebration! Use these little victories to motivate yourself to keep pushing forward toward your goals.
If you follow these steps and give it your best effort, you are bound to see results. It can boost your confidence knowing that you can express yourself well and be understood. True, you will continue to make mistakes. But everybody makes mistakes. Just try not to make the same ones over and over again. If you can clearly see your weaknesses, then you have the potential to improve them. Focusing on these areas of improvement will make you a stronger communicator.
Getting rid of your accent can open up doors of opportunity. Of course, you should never be ashamed of your background. That’s your story. It makes you who you are. Use it to your advantage. Taking control of the way you present yourself means you can tailor your professional image to suit your purposes. It empowers you.