Accent. Lately it has become one of my challenges Nr.1. For some time I have tried to ignore it. But now I have decided to explore, what I can do to improve the situation. Where is the problem you might ask? Well, I speak 5 languages and am learning another 2 and in ALL languages (including my native) I speak with an accent.
Where from did it come? I studied in High School in Russian with some subjects in Latvian, then University was in Latvian-English, the last year of university I studied in Germany, in German. Then I moved to the UK and used English and Russian at work. When I did my Masters in UK and in Italy, the studies were in English and Italian. Now I live inRome and use Italian, English, Russian at work. So the last 10 years of my life I constantly had to use different languages every day.
The first issue arose after I finished Bachelors – I realised that I started speaking Russian, my native language, with an accent. Most likely it was because I have not used it a lot in everyday life. Now, when I come back to Latvia, people tend to think that I am a foreigner who managed to learn very well Latvian and Russian.
The easiest solution which you can find is “look at the locals and try to imitate their sounds, how they speak”. Well, in Italy I lived in Siena and Rome, and in these two places people speak very different language. Actually now I realised that the more you move, the more difficult it is to start speaking “without an accent”, as accent ALWAYS existas, and “speaking without an accent” means only that you speak like locals, but if you change towns, the accent might change. Here, in Rome, I have Italian, American, English, German, Arabic and other friends and it is normal for me to speak 3-4 languages a day. So is it actually possible for me to speak without an accent?
One friend of mine, an opera singer, manages to speak without an accent even without mastering too much the language. Well, it is her gift “to hear the language”. But I think we could learn it, too, like learning the music sounds.
While trying to find more information on the web on how to get rid of an accent, I found this very interesting article, written by Anthea Fraser Gupta “Ask the Linguist FAQ: Accents”, you can find it here. They offer some obvious, but at the same time the most practical tips on how to speak with a particular accent:
- “Identify the accent you want to speak.
- Expose yourself to the accent you want as much as possible.
- Try to get some friends who speak with the accent you want.
- Try to make sure you are not mixing with people who will criticise you for changing your accent.”
Hmmm I think in my case it is hard to achieve even one of these points. My main goal is to speak a language and not sound like foreigner. However I guess for Americans even British English might sound like strange… What concerns exposure – I have so many different friends, that it is hardly possible to separate the groups and mix with one and ignore all others. So I guess in my case I better use an advice of Suzette Hayden Elgin and practice speaking without a “foreigner” accent, using audio recordings (the description of this technique I found in the article mentioned above).
Other interesting tips I found were:
- Find which muscles are used in language you want to improve and exercise these muscles
- Observe how native speaker speaks your own language – if person speaks with a strong accent, his/her mistakes in pronunciation will show you the main differences in your languages, which you can use to master your pronunciation and improve your accent.
More information on this method, you can find in the article “Secrets of Speaking with a Genuine Accent” by Owen Lee here.
Good luck! And let’s share our progress or may be other issues or tips on accent in the comments
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