Accent Reduction For Professionals (2015)
Chapter: 10: 8 Secrets to Accent Reduction
If you’re as serious about reducing your accent as I believe you are, then you’re probably already implementing quite a few of the methods explained in the previous chapters. In addition to those, I’d like to share with you eight secrets of accent reduction that most individuals don’t think to share with you. It’s not that they’re purposely keeping these tips, tricks and techniques from you. It’s that they may have stumbled across them in their search for shortcuts to accent reduction.
Test out the following tips. If they work for you great!
- The English language has a unique cadence.
Some have compare the cadence of English to that of jazz music. Think about how in that genre one note sometimes flows effortlessly into the other and how the intonation of the music changes at a moment’s notice.
Many students, new to the English language, are naturally careful in their speech, fearful of making a mistake. They speak slowly and carefully with pauses between every word. This, for a native, is a telltale sign that English isn’t your first language. So many English words are connected. Consider the phrase “How are you?” The first two words are said almost as if they were one.
Another good example of this is the phrase “got you.” For some reason, native speakers string this together to make it sound like one word. On top of that, they also place a “tch” sound in there. In effect, it sounds more like “gotchya” than anything else.
The point is that if you deliberately separate every word you speak, you’ll sound stilted and robotic. The next time hear someone speak English, pay attention to this aspect of the language.
- Listen to audiobooks.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best ways to reduce your accent. Not only that, but it’s a “safe” method. While you listen to these native speakers in the privacy of your car or home, you’ll be able to get the feel for all the nuances that go into the English language. In effect, this secret trains your ear to actually “stop hearing with your accent,” which can be critical to your ultimate success.
- Detect when an “s” is really a “z.”
What? There really are times in the English language that we write the word using the letter “s” but end up saying the word as if it were a “z.” Go figure.
You’ll find this occurs, more often than not, when the “s” is the final letter of the word. Knowing when to use the “z” sound and when not to will help you reduce your accent. Listed below are just a few words illustrating this example.
In the following words the final “s” sounds like a “z” when spoken: beds, cries, rays. The next three words end in the letter “s” and are pronounced as an “s”: bells, hits, tacks.
- Learn to detect “voiced” sounds from “unvoiced” ones.
Many consonants in the English language are only spoken as voiced. These include, “b,” “d,” “g,” “l,” “m,” “n,” “ng,” “r,” “v,” “w,” “y,” and “z.” Quite a long list, isn’t it?
We’ve talked about this in regard to the “th” sound, which has a slight difference to its sound whether it’s voiced or unvoiced. What we didn’t mention, however, is the fact that there are a few others, including the “h,” “k,” “p,” “t,” “s.”
Here’s another way to tell whether the words below have a voiced or unvoiced consonant. Place your index and middle fingers at the hollow of your neck. The closer to the base of the neck you can put it, the more accurate you’ll be at identifying the sound. If the sound is voiced, there’ll be no vibration there. If you do feel a vibration then you’ll know the sound is unvoiced.
In each pair of words, one is voiced and the other not. Practice distinguishing one from the other:
- Record yourself speaking English.
Yes, record yourself, but don’t stop there. Take a sentence or two and record yourself. Then play it back and write down what you said. Here’s the catch, though, don’t write it as it’s correctly spelled. Transcribe it phonetically. Let’s say you recorded yourself speaking the sentence: “I think the bed is too soft.” What you hear when you transcribe this is “I dink da bet iss doo sof.”
If that’s what you hear, write it down. Look for errors. In this example we know the “th” sound came out as a “d” and the voiced sounded more like a voiceless “t.” Additionally the “z” sound in the word is sounded more like an “s” and the final “t” in soft was actually dropped.
This is one of the best ways that you can evaluate yourself. Of course, the key is to keep using this method while at the same time listen to native speakers to help you overcome these errors.
- Buy a Pronunciation Dictionary
This can be one of the most valuable things you can do. If you’ve never heard of one before, it’s exactly what it sounds like. In addition to giving you the proper pronunciation, this type of dictionary also helps you with discover the proper stress and how to break the word into syllables.
You can find them in just about any bookstore. If you have trouble finding it, ask a clerk; she’ll know exactly what you mean. Some varieties of this dictionary may even come with an audio CD so you can easily listen to the correct pronunciations.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Perhaps this secret isn’t quite what you expected. It will, however, make the difference between speaking with or without an accent. The fact is that unless you use the English language, you’ll never be able to speak it without your native accent. Give yourself time to learn the pronunciation. Don’t think that you’ll lose your accent overnight. If you practice, though, you will eventually speak more like a native.
This happens, if for no other reason, you’re practicing the correct placement and movement of your tongue.
- Learn the art of message chunking
The art of what?
I can hear you ask that now. It’s called message chunking and it’s a habit many native English speakers have. To sound truly native, your delivery of English need to be broken into “clear and logical” breaks of words, commonly called chunks. These are often referred to as thought groups.
In English, an average thought group is approximately three to four words long. At the end of each of these thought groups, native English speakers insert a pause. It’s only a split second long, but if you listen close enough you can hear it. They’re called thought groups because they are a chunk of words that can stand alone and still make sense. They’re similar to a short portion of a much longer sentence. If you choose the wrong time to pause, like in the midst of one of these thought groups, you’ll discover your listeners have a difficult time following your train of thought.
Not only that, but within each of these chunks of thoughts, there should be a single word that takes on the main emphasis. This is the word that needs to be stressed or emphasized when you speak. It may take a while to discover exactly where to stop to create these chunks of messages. With enough practice, though, you’ll soon know nearly instinctively how to create effective and intelligent thought groups.
You may not think this is a big deal, but give it a try. You’ll be surprised at how much your accent disappears.
Even if you only implement a few of these eight tips, you’ll be making great strides in reducing your accent. When you put these tips together with the previous suggestions and directions found in all the other chapters, you’ve found a remarkable and nearly unbeatable road to sounding more like a native speaker of English daily.
Congratulations! You have learned the most important tools needed to effectively reduce your foreign language and make great strides in acquiring one that sounds more closely to a native English speaker.
Having said that, I’m sure you realize you probably haven’t mastered any of these techniques – yet, that is! – nor do you sound like you have spoken English since the day you were born.
But, if you continue to study these, practice them on a daily basis and keep some of these tips, tricks and techniques in your consciousness, then you’ve taken some of the most important steps toward making it so.
If, prior to reading this book, you felt as if there were no hope for you in ever accomplishing this, then my sincere desire is that we’ve lifted your expectations that it really is possible to do so. You’ve heard many people from other countries talk fluently and flawlessly in English – without the accent. If they can do it, so can you.
You’ll naturally want to re-read certain sections of this book, depending on what presents the most trouble for you. I encourage you to. In this way you can work on the most stubborn aspects you’re encountering.
There are plenty of methods other than what I’ve just presented here. These, though, I’ve discovered are among the quickest and most relevant one. I’m quite sure you’ll find more ways to do this than what I could list here. If so that’s great. Just keep in mind that for the most part, you’ll want to listen carefully to those who were raised with English as their first language.
If you’re planning on being successful, you’ll have to put yourself on the line at times and ask those native-speaking individuals you know to help you overcome your accent. You’ll discover that there are many people who would not only be glad to help you in your quest, but would probably be honored as well.
A Tedious Job
I’ve quoted one friend who described overcoming his accent as being as tedious and boring as lifting weights. For some that may be so. Keeping this in mind, try to meet this goal with a smile, knowing that in the end, all the effort and “weightlifting” is worth it. Because it is.
There’s not a place or sentence in this book in which I’ve promised shedding your accent and adopting one closer to a native speaker of English would be easy. You, however, already knew that. If it were easy, you wouldn’t need any guidebook.
So as much as you dream of waking up one day and waving a magic wand that allows you to speak perfect English accent-free, it’s not going to happen that way. It will, however, occur and with less pain than you may think, when you develop the habit of speaking English and listening to native speakers on a daily basis.
Don’t worry that you may not be able to learn it in person. Take your education whichever way works. By this I mean that the internet opens new vistas generations prior to us never had.
In previous generations, meeting native speaking individuals of a language was about the only way to shed your own accent. You had to be lucky enough to visit the country or happen to run into one in your country.
Today, you can turn on the television, cruise the internet, watch Netflix and so much more. Many of them, by the way, can be accomplished in a “safe” environment – one in which you needn’t fear about anyone making light or teasing you about your accent.
It’s up to you to take advantage of these amazing methods as best you can.
Continue working toward your goal. The sky’s the limit.