Accent Reduction For Professionals (2015)
Chapter 9: Reverse Accent Mimicry
Since your goal is to reduce your foreign accent, then you may want to explore the concept of reverse accent mimicry. It’s not the simplest idea to understand, but it just may be an exercise that’ll work for you. So I feel compelled to at least talk a bit about it.
The idea is that the quickest and easiest method of breaking through your accent and any pronunciation issues in your second language, in this case English, is by finding a person who speaks English as their first language and simply mimic their “accent” while you’re speaking your own native language.
Think about it for a moment. When I first explored this concept, I had to allow the idea soak in for a while. In fact, when it was first explained to me, I wasn’t even sure I fully understood the concept. But as I continued to explore the theory, it made sense to me.
In essence, you’ll walk through four steps.
- Find a “reverse model.”
This is a person who speaks your native language with a thick accent based on the language you’re attempting to conquer. Let’s say your first language is French, but your goal is to speak flawless English. You’re looking for someone who is comfortable speaking English but, still has his or her French accent.
I know right now, you’re tempted to bail and move on to another chapter, but at this point stay with me, please.
- Your goal is to mimic your model in your first language.
If you speak French, then ask this person to speak some in French. Don’t just repeat what they say, mimic everything you notice in how they speak, down to their gestures. In a very real way parrot everything you can as well as you can about them when they speak.
If you’re afraid you won’t remember what your model is saying, then give him a monologue to read or a portion of a book to read. If it would make you feel more comfortable record a television show or watch one Netflix or Hulu. You can then just mimic these characters down to a tee.
- Transition this mimicry into your second language.
The next step is to shift to mimicking this character or person, only this time in the second language. Yes, the language in which you’re trying to reduce you accent. It’s essential at this point that you keep everything as close to his “act” as possible. Don’t change is animation, expression, pronunciation or even intonation. The only difference is that not you’re speaking in the language you’re learning – your second language. You’ll discover that while you were mimicking your model, you almost subconsciously adopted much of the necessary native nuances of the language which are vital to learning a second language.
- Finally, use one-on-one interaction with a speaker of your second language.
Preferably, you’ll want this face-to-face time to be with a native English speaker. As you speak with him, you’ll notice an immense reduction in your accent. Not only that, but you’ll soon discover that others can hear it in your spoken word as well.
A friend of mine is a strong advocate of this method. His first language is English, but was trying hard to speak French like a native. Unfortunately, as he tells it his “carry-over English foreign accent” always got in the way. He explained that even though his French grammar and vocabulary were great, his listeners “often misunderstood me or asked me to repeat.” Sound familiar?
He finally broke through that barrier, he told me, when he was in France watching the old movie Gigi, starring the legendary actor, Maurice Chevalier. The theater showed its original English version with French subtitles. After the movie was over, he began doing his impersonation of Chevalier, mimicking everything from gestures to the way he spoke English.
Without giving it a second thought, he was “effortlessly mimicking French prosodic melody and stress patterns,” as he explained it to me. He said what he heard as he did this was his speaking with exaggerated and tenser French speech patterns. Without even knowing it he was using the French intonation and pronunciation qualities that had been so difficult for him to acquire up until then.
Furthermore, he continued to tell me excitedly, that he suddenly had the ability to use “a whole cluster of salient spoken French intonation and pronunciation qualities” that had before somehow eluded him.
Reverse accent mimicry could be a unique and enjoyable, even playful, way to reduce your foreign accent quickly. At the very least, you can give it a try. If nothing else, you’ll have a good time. My bet is, though, that you’ll find, just as my friend did, it could be the “superhighway” to reducing your accent.
He even confessed to me: “I discovered that from that moment on, my accent problems were nearly gone.”
Give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. But if it indeed does, then you’ve found the elusive “superhighway” to accent reduction. Congratulations.
The following chapter provides you with eight tips, tricks and techniques of squeezing in methods of accent reduction throughout your day. These are, for the most, part quick and easy.
The goal of these is to keep the need of accent reduction front and center in your consciousness. To discover these, simply continue reading to the next chapter.