Why Do Some English Learners Have a Heavy Accent and Some Sound Like Natives?
You would never guess some people weren’t born native English speakers. They have just the perfect English accent. Then you discover that they learned English as an adult! I’ve met people like this. Have you? It’s amazing and it’s true.
On the other hand, we all know people who have learned English as a second language and can’t seem to get rid of their super heavy accent from their native language. This is all too common.
So, what gives? Why is it that some people have great accents and some have heavy, hard to understand accents? Is it because one person is smarter than the other?
NO! It’s just become of one thing — first language interference or, the ability to focus on sounds and not letters. The reason why some people have a heavy accent is because they let their first language affect their second language too much.
Believe me, you are smart enough to have a perfect accent. The problem is not intelligence. The problem is the way we think about sounds and language.
How to Get a Perfect Native English Accent
The reason why some people have a heavy accent in English is because they are still using the rules from their first language.
In your native language, X = Y but in English X = Z!
You can not always carry the rules of pronunciation from your first language to English (maybe sometimes, but sometimes not).
For example, an R in English sounds like “er” but an R in Portuguese could be like “h” in English and an R in Japanese could be like “l” in English.
You can get a perfect Native English Accent when you let go of the rules from your native language and learn English with an open mind. You have to learn the sounds each letter makes just like a baby does — from zero!
Here are three suggestions for doing that:
Immersion – Listen to a Lot of Native English
Whenever you can, always play English media movies, music, TV, and so on. and have English language media going on in the background even if you’re doing something else. Your brain is amazing! It will start to recognize patterns in English pronunciation and the sounds of English will become more familiar to you.
So, whatever you are doing, always have something to listen to in English.
Let Go of Your First Language Rules
Next, you have to forget about the pronunciation rules in your first language. Be totally ready for new sounds that you’ve never been aware of before. Listen carefully and don’t let your first, native language interfere. Don’t assume that English spellings will make sense at first! Remember that you can keep your native language, but make room for new rules for letters and sounds in English!
Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
The International Phonetic Alphabet is an extremely useful tool for quickly identifying the true, correct pronunciation of any word in any language.
So, you’re probably wondering why your English teacher didn’t make you learn it, and why I don’t talk about it much either. Well, the bad news is that it is really challenging and takes time to learn. Even though it is a powerful tool for language learning, I recommend the lazy person’s version. Take notes about how you think new words should be spelled based on how they sound to you. When you write down new words (you are writing down new words in a vocabulary journal, right?!), write down the way they sound, not just the way they are spelled. This will help you to remember how to say them later.
Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Learn more about how to improve your pronunciation in English with this vlog lesson on the 100 Most Common Words in English and how to Pronounce Them