A lot of people in the world speak English, not just in the USA or the UK. In fact, you have probably been taking ESL or English classes for years. Maybe you are even in the Proficient User category with a rating of C1 or C2. So you are probably thinking, “If I score well...
A lot of people in the world speak English, not just in the USA or the UK. In fact, you have probably been taking ESL or English classes for years. Maybe you are even in the Proficient User category with a rating of C1 or C2. So you are probably thinking, “If I score well on my English exams, why does it feel like I still have so far to go? How long will this take?” Your frustration is understandable, but with persistence and perspective, you can reach your goals.
Why does it feel like I still have so far to go?
Be persistent! Keep working on your accent
You’re probably tired of hearing feel-good philosophies like, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” In reality, it can be disheartening when you set out to improve your communication skills and you don’t see results right away. But even with big goals like changing your accent, if you stick to it you will see results! So, what’s the trick to keep moving forward with your accent goals and not give up?
Have perspective! Focus on your progress.
Another catchphrase that can be annoying is, “If I did it, you can too!” But the more you focus on how easy it is for other people, the harder it seems for yourself sometimes. So you have to focus on personal progress. Try to notice those little things you never gave yourself credit for. That will feed your self-confidence and give you fuel to push yourself forward.
Set specific goals.
The best way to track your progress and keep your eyes on the road ahead is to set measurable goals for yourself. This can be a challenge with something as gradual and subjective as accent reduction. But there are things you can focus on that will give you a clear idea of how far you’ve come and what’s left in front of you.
This is where the old adage fits in, “Take it one step at a time”. When you are walking, you have to look down the road to see where you are going but you also need to watch your step right in front of you. You need short-term and long-term goals. The same is true with your accent or communication goals. Here are a few short-term and long-term goals you might set for yourself:
One-week goal– Find a friend, family member, or accent coach that can help you polish your pronunciation. Sometimes people are hesitant to give you the help you need if you don’t tell them you want it. Ask them to correct your pronunciation. Just make sure to be clear about what you’re asking them to do. Maybe you have a friend at work that can help you but you don’t want him to correct you right in front of your boss. So why not ask him to send you a message with the word or phrase in question and then you can get more details from them later?
Two-month goal– Learn how to enunciate the vowel sounds clearly. This can be harder than it seems. There are a lot of little things that happen in the mouth to make American vowel sounds unique. Look them up or ask an accent coach to help you discover them. Now let’s be clear, the idea here is to understand how to make these vowel sounds, not become completely consistent with them. That will have to be a long-term goal.
One-year goal– Learn all of the vowel and consonant sounds in full detail. Then keep reviewing them briefly every day so that you can become more and more consistent with them. At this point, you should be able to hear things you didn’t hear before like the big differences between the way native speakers pronounce a sound vs. non-natives. You’ll also begin to notice variations in the way native speakers themselves pronounce things. All of these observations will help you to make informed decisions about the way you want to be heard.
Two-year goal– Learn to speak in a clear, polished way that makes it easy for your listeners to understand you. It will now be less likely for people to make an issue of your accent. Of course, there may still be traces of your former pronunciation patterns, but nothing major. With some extra effort and time, you may even make it to the level where people are surprised to find out you are not a native English speaker.
Be patient. Accent reduction done right takes time.
Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone has different capabilities and circumstances. So you may need to move the above goals slightly up or down depending on the time and energy you are willing to dedicate. But these goals are reasonable even if you do not consider yourself to be good with languages or accents.
To illustrate, say one person is corrected on the pronunciation of a word 5 times and gives up before getting it right. Another person is corrected 5000 times and does not give up until they find the sound and get used to it. Which one reached their goal? The second one! Why? Because they didn’t give up. It doesn’t matter whether it was easy for them or hard. What matters is that they finished what they started. They rose to the challenge.
Success! Reach your accent goals
You can do that same thing. You can be successful with improving your accent or communication style. Yes, it will take an investment of time to produce the desired changes. But every journey starts with a single step. And small steps get you farther than none.
Take a moment to assess what you really want to achieve with your accent, communication, and diction goals. Then, write out a plan with clear, reasonable goals. Why not sign up for accent classes to get you started? Professional help is certainly a good idea. But don’t forget that the power to make change lies in your hands. You can do it!