Everyone has an accent. But, most people don’t realize it until they leave home and go somewhere that the majority of people speak with a different accent. That’s when they see the need to “reduce” their old accent and acquire a new one. Many people come to live and work in New York City, San...
Everyone has an accent. But, most people don’t realize it until they leave home and go somewhere that the majority of people speak with a different accent. That’s when they see the need to “reduce” their old accent and acquire a new one.
Many people come to live and work in New York City, San Francisco, or other places in the U.S.A. and want to fit in as best they can with their accent and communication style. But why is it so hard to make the change? Sometimes people get frustrated and convince themselves that the way they speak is simply a part of them, part of their DNA. But, reducing a foreign accent is possible. Many people have done it. To reach that goal, you have to know what you’re up against. What are the specific challenges and tricks to overcome them?
Challenge #1 – The Force of Habit
Humans are creatures of habit. We follow the path of least resistance. We do things the way we have always done them. Our brains are drawn toward things that are familiar by default. That’s true of our daily habits, and it’s also true of our speech and pronunciation patterns. This tendency is explained by something called “muscle memory”.
Trick – Get Muscle Memory on Your Side
When we do something new, it takes us a while to figure out how to do it. But, when it is something we have done before, like tying our shoes or brushing our teeth, we don’t put much thought into it. Our hands and fingers move without detailed instructions from our brain. This is why professional pianists can play piano chords with expert precision. Can you imagine a concert pianist stopping to decide how to move every finger? They would have to play in slow motion, and that wouldn’t make for a very impressive show.
The same thing happens with our tongue and lips. We don’t think specifically about each and every movement if we are fluent in the language. It’s almost like our tongue moves. It doesn’t wait for instructions from the brain. This muscle memory is what makes fluid communication possible. So, when it comes to accent modification, how do we turn off the autopilot and re-write the instructions?
Challenge #2 – Training Your Mouth Muscles
A piano student needs to go through the motions slowly first to master the melody, rhythm, and technique. You need to do the same thing with your accent. Slow down and pay attention to the way you move your mouth. Then, compare the way you do it with the way a native speaker does it. Take note of the differences and make the needed adjustments.
Trick – Hire an Accent Expert
This is where attention to detail comes into play. Try to get specific advice and input on your accent and pronunciation from a skilled teacher to know what differences need more attention. You may be surprised by the number of small tongue movements that you will need to adjust.
Since the tongue is a muscle, rebooting your muscle memory may hurt sometimes. Exercising and training the muscle takes concerted effort. People at the gym say “no pain, no gain”. It shouldn’t hurt too bad, but if you feel like your mouth is tired, that’s a good sign. It means you’re changing deeply ingrained habits.
Challenge #3 – Which Comes First, Fluency or Accuracy?
Maybe people tell you that you need to slow down when you speak to improve your accent. But, you want to be fluent, and they talk even faster than you! What you actually need to do is slow down to isolate the needed adjustments. Then, once you start feeling more comfortable with the new set of mouth movements, you can gradually speed back up again as you speak.
Trick – Walk Before You Run
Throughout this process, you may feel like you are sacrificing fluency for accuracy. But if you want both, it’s accuracy first, and then fluency comes later. You have to walk before you can run. Take the time to learn to say things right, then slide back into a comfortable pace once you are comfortable with the new pronunciation patterns.
Challenge #4 – Lasting Change Takes Time
Another discouraging factor tends to be the gradualism of changing your accent. No one can deny that quick fixes are great. But losing your accent is a matter of changing habits. It’s like the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Accent reduction is a big project, so progress can’t be measured day to day. These changes can be measured month to month and year to year though.
Trick – Notice Every Little Improvement in Your Accent
Measure your success incrementally through “micro-improvements”. The changes you make on the road to accent modification are small and subtle. So, don’t expect people to say “Wow! You have lost your accent!” after only a few weeks. If you pay close attention though, you will notice things begin to change.
First off, you will find that you don’t have to repeat yourself as often. The guy at the grocery store doesn’t know you, so of course he won’t compliment you on your accent. But let’s say you formerly had to repeat yourself once a day doing errands, like grocery shopping. You start to notice it’s gone down to once a week. Then every other week. Now once a month. These are major milestones! Even though no one else may notice, you notice. This will boost your confidence as you move forward with your goals.
Every so often, take stock of your improvements over the past six months. Record yourself and then compare new recordings with older ones. You probably won’t like the new ones either, but let’s be honest, no one likes to hear their own voice. Spot the improvements. You may notice changes you didn’t even realize were happening.
Conclusion- Your Hard Work Will Pay Off
Think about that pianist again. Some musicians are proteges, and music comes naturally to them. But most of them have to go through the process of studying and practicing to get good at it. The harder they work, the better they get. It takes time, but the end result is beautiful.
Just like musicians, some people are gifted with languages and accents. Others have to put in the time and effort. Losing an accent is hard work. But you don’t need to win the accent Grammy’s here. With study, concentration, and practice, you can pull yourself up to the place you want to be. You can reduce your accent! Take a moment to sign up for accent reduction classes today and start on the road to overcoming those big challenges!