Having an accent is not something to be ashamed of, but many people for various reasons want to work on reducing or softening theirs.
Unfortunately, researchers at the University of Chicago found in a 2010 study that when people have to work harder to understand a heavy accent, they regard the speaker as less credible. Some people want to avoid having to repeat themselves consistently and others would feel more confident that the get their points across and the audience is not simply nodding in agreement without understanding. A study by the Guardian found that even native speakers are trying to soften their regional accent via Elocution lessons in order to advance upwards in their career.
In order to help people achieve their goals, we provide below the most comprehensive advice list on how to reduce your accent.
Whether you want to speak in American or English, californian or NY accent, Received Pronunciation or posh you will benefit from making a selection towards which accent you will be working on.
Whenever you watch TV or listen to the radio, focus and pay attention on the pronunciation of words and the sound patterns. If you are a beginner and your vocabulary is not that rich, when you watch TV use English subtitles. As your vocabulary increases and you comprehend easier, ditch the subtitles to focus more on listening carefully.
Youtube is full of useful videos to help you improve your pronunciation. English with Lucy is one of my favourites. In addition, if you know of someone’s accent you like, Youtube is your best means to find many videos of this person. Listen to their voices, pay attention to word pronunciation and intonation and imitate them.
Try to speak out loud as much as you can. Be consistent. Practice for about 30 mins per day. Speaking out loud will also help you to train your face muscles (tongue, lips, jaw) as most likely these muscles are used slightly differently in your native language or dialect. Afterall, practice does make perfect.
Read English books. While studying, read out loud the books. Ideally, you can use a kindle ebook and an audible audiobook to listen to what you are reading, from a native speaker, and at the same time repeat it yourself.
Even native speakers are easier to understand when they speak slowly. Keep in mind also that in many countries, especially English speaking ones, native speakers do speak slower. Speak slowly and pronounce each word as clearly as possible. The more you do it the more natural it will get.
Depending on the way you want to sound, you might need to pay attention to the words you are using. For example, in American English you would say zucchini and eggplant but in British English you better use courgette and aubergine, respectively, to sound more natural to native speakers.
If you do not stress the right syllable the word might sound something completely different or not understood at all. Different languages emphasize different parts of the word. Therefore, pay attention to which syllable needs to be stressed but do not overdo it.
Pay attention to how the voices of native speakers rise and fall and which parts they stress to put emphasis. Intonation refers to the sound patterns, ther variation in the pitch level or tone of the voice. As the simplest rule, make sure your pitch goes down before a comma or a period.
Be open to feedback. Actually, try to get as much feedback as you can get. If you talk to native speakers, ask them to correct you when your pronunciation is not right. Pay attention to non verbal signals. If people look like they are struggling to understand you, you might want to stop, pace yourself and try to articulate words as best as possible.
Start by practising simple tongue twisters and then progress to more difficult ones. Record yourself saying these tongue twisters and then listen to what you have recorded or use the tool I created to review what an automatic speech interpreter recognizes.Practice Tongue Twisters
Recording yourself is also an important part of your plan. Every once in a while, choose a short speech or passage from a book. If possible, choose something that you can listen to first in the accent you're trying to accomplish. Use our voice recording and say the passage out loud. Then listen to the native accent, compare it with yours and identify sounds and words you can improve.Go to online audio recording
You need to be determined. Set realistic goals and track your progress on the long run. Your accent will not change in one week. Think of accent reduction as a journey. Enjoy learning and getting better and add enough variation on your program to stay the course.
Make a plan. Something like, one day you watch English TV, most of the days you listen to the radio while commuting to work or university, other days you watch Youtube. One day per week you join a social activity with native speakers and another day per week you check your progress with tongue twisters or the online voice recording tool. Organize your practice plan accordingly.
Accent reduction is not easy. Some weeks you will progress faster than the others or other times you will get less positive feedback. Do not get overwhelmed, do not let it affect your determination. Having a perfect native accent might not be possible, but as long as you keep working towards your goal you will keep making progress.
Sooner or later, depending on the result you want to achieve, you might need to receive honest feedback from a professional. You better do it early on your journey so while you practice you do not develop bad habits. You can then have regular (frequency depending on your budget) checkpoints with him or her to check progress and course correct.