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Accents: What the fudge is your problem?

If you see this post it means I haven’t died from a marijuana overdose yet (is that even possible?). Matt is doing a great job of making TLD even more bad ass every day while I’m getting more stuck in my Hank Moody-esque writer’s life.

You see, after meeting some other language bloggers two years ago, I’ve been thinking about producing something useful for all you foreign-sounding, faux-hipster tree huggers out there. People like Benny think I have a nose for foreign accents or something. Personally, I think I simply have a big nose.

My question for you is: what the heck is your problem when it comes to accents? What’s stopping you from sounding like a native? Why can even deaf natives can tell that you’re a foreigner? Please, share your stories. Even though I’m great and look like a young Clark Kent (check my hair!), I still appreciate your input.

In short, tell me in the comments or via ramses [at] thelanguagedojo [dot] com what has worked for you to get a good native accent. Include an audio clip if you like so I can show how cool you are in my new ebook…

Accent Reduction for Dummies

No idea how much copyright there is on this cover, but I think the entire for dummies concept is brilliant. In fact, the entire process to sounding more native-like in any language isn’t that groundbreaking, it’s just that very few people know how to go about it. That’s why I’m here to help you!

So again: what has helped YOU?

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A Spanish teacher by trade, Ramses is a true language learning addict. He started Spanish-Only.com and The Language Dojo, and isn't even thinking about quitting language learning; it's in his blood!

Latest posts by Ramses (see all)

21 Comments…

mockingjay April 1, 2013 at 3:45 am

I think my problem is that people are okay with just understanding me. It’s really difficult to get someone to actually help you fix your accent **for free**
Most people just say, “I don’t know. You just sound strange and a little off.”
I try to listen to myself and I KNOW what a native speaker sounds like, unforunately… I’m not replicating it to a T.
My pronunciation is good, people can always understand me without bursting into laughter which is good considering the mispronounciations I hear.
Personally, I think pronunciation is secondary. Native children, heck, even adults don’t pronounce everything “correctly.”
I think trying to pronounce everything correctly without trying to sound like a normal Spanish speaker (well for me a Mexican speaker) killed my Spanish accent.
In conclusion, focus on sounding normal first. My two cents.

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Nashare April 2, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I needed one year to get a nearly perfect accent.
In the first half year I’ve just heard the language and haven’t spoken a word. (I tried to hear so much as possibile, at least 8 hours)
Then I did shadowing one hour/day (By shadowing I try automatically to imitate the intonation, stress accent and the speed)
Every week I recorded my voice and recognized two things: I suck, but I suck less than before.
So I did that every day for a year and now I think that I have a really good accent.
It’s not perfect, but it will become :)
When I compare my pronunciation for a half year and now, I improved a lot.
I think every people could get a very good accent, if they would practice and hear enough.
Hear and imitate, I cannot say a thing more.
I don’t think that should be a big problem, just hear at first and then, after a half year or more, try to imitate native speakers. It should work with all people I think (Unless you are deaf)

Sorry for my poor English, at the moment it ins’t my traget language :)

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Fisher April 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Nashare,

Thanks for you input. By the way, what language are talking about in your post and what’s your native language? If you listened to the language approx. 8 hours a day, that means you’ve listened to the language about 1000 hours. How was comprehension after that? And when you say nearly perfect accent, what do you mean? Are you mistaken for a native from time to time?

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Nashare April 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Hi Fisher,
I’m learning Italian and my native language is (Swiss) German.
The comprehension is much better than before. At the moment I watch Il Trono di Spade (Games of Thrones) and understand the storyline without a problem.
I understand Italians unless they speak not to much dialect-like (Because my knowledge about dialects is very small at the moment)
With a nearly perfect accent I mean, that you doesn’t notice as a foreign at once.
To be honest I didn’t spoke so much because I’m in the transition from pure input to output. But I spoke already some words with Italian and they didn’t recognize that I’m an foreign. They are very suprised when I tell them I’m from Switzerland.
But somtimes I do not hit the right accent to 100 % and after a time some people recognize my foreigness :) (I don’t speak an Italian dialect, that is also a big lack, so people could notice it also due to that)
I could try to reach 100% perfect accent, but I don’t know if it’s worth it.
To reach a nearly perfect accent could need 1-2 years, but a perfect accent perhaps 4-5 years I don’t know.

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Fisher April 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Ramses,

How much input had you gotten when people started to mistaken you for a native?

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Andrew April 4, 2013 at 4:46 am

Shitty pronunciation is simply a product of people failing to perform the most basic aspect of learning to speak a language:

Listen to native speakers and replicate what they say, keep repeating it until you sound just like they do.

That’s really all you have to do. People with thick accents either didn’t do this enough or they got to a point with each word/phrase they were learning to say where it sounded roughly like what the native was saying and they said “meh, good enough, people will be able to understand me”.

I don’t think it’s really worth your time to completely get rid of your accent simply because that’s so difficult and time-consuming with almost no real payoff, but it definitely is worth it to make sure you’ve got really good pronunciation so that you speak very clearly such that people will have a very easy time understanding you. Who cares if they can tell you’re not a native speaker?

Cheers,
Andrew

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Nashare April 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I agree. I think it’s more important to speak like a native and have a very thin accent as to have a perfect accent but speaking like an idiot.

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eristdoof April 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm

A major problem comes when there are two sounds that aren’t differentiated in your native language. For an english person the german u and ü sounds is one example, likewise the french u and ou. This means that your ability to hear the difference progresses very slowly and you will often make mistakes when speaking. You can find ways around it but usually you will sound like a foreigner by trying to do so.

Another problem comes when a non-native sound sits next to another, which makes it even more difficult to say. A great English example of this is “clothes”, even foreign guys who can say the th sound very well have problems following it up with the s sound and have to put a quick break between the two. I have a similar problem with bißchen in German. I have no problem with the ch (a sound only found in scottish english) but the preceeding ß makes it hard to say. Again I can be lazy and say “bishen” but Germans hear the difference ie its an accent.

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Narshare April 5, 2013 at 6:48 pm

But I think you could learn to distinguish the sounds better.
For example I couldn’t hear the difference between the z and s (ss) sound.
(Because we Swiss Germans don’t distinguish these sounds)
But now I don’t have the problem anymore. I searched examples and tried to hear the difference (And I listened a lot of TV etc.)
But I had to listen to it. I’m raised up with Germans German but I couldn’t distinguish these sound. But then I tried to hear the difference and after a time I could it.

And you’re right “bishen” would sound strange ^^

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Livonor April 20, 2013 at 12:27 am

Yeah, this isn’t a problem at all

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Livonor April 20, 2013 at 12:27 am

Yeah, this isn’t a problem at all

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eristdoof April 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Ramses,

Are you claiming you speak English without an accent?

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Daniel April 6, 2013 at 9:18 am

Attempting to repeat what you hear is good and “shadowing” thus has a well-earned reputation. But focusing on the faces of native speakers as they speak takes this to another level.

If you can hold your face and tongue as native speakers do, and then push out your words from the same spot and with the same force of energy as they do, you will sound like they do.

Thus, while sounding like a native is hard on one level, on another it’s simple mechanics. The problem many people have is that they’re acting like a trumpet player who is trying to play a new note without changing any of the physical things that were necessary for the first one.

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Livonor April 20, 2013 at 12:30 am

Thanks for the tip bro

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Ruth Elisabeth May 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Great tip! It’s so often overlooked – I’d forgotten it myself. Thanks for the reminder!

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Livonor April 20, 2013 at 1:00 am

I guess this accent/ pronunciation thing is more a matter of personal taste, I often mispronounce the b, v, and z sounds in my own native language (I can’t even pronounce my own name correctly) but I lived my life normally until now without any problem

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Marek B April 30, 2013 at 4:15 am

I agree with the listen to native speakers and imitate. I think it’s a matter of repetition most times. Practice, practice, practice.

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Zara Chiron May 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I think this topic is so interesting. I find it intriguing when someone utters a single monosyllabic word and somehow effortlessly manages to reveal that she/he is foreign. (Guilty as charged). I speak French fluently but not matter how hard I tried I could never get rid of my accent! Luckily, in France – an English speakers accent is generally viewed as “charming.” But now I am learning Spanish and unfortunately this would not be the case here! This time around I must find a away to eliminate as much of my accent as I possibly can….(much easier said than done). Especially being able to roll my r’s! Help! I just keep spitting on people every time I try!

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reybu May 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I think you have first to have a wide vocabulary and sense of the gramatic before trying to have no accent or at least a thin accent. Nevertheless it helps to make efforts right from the beginning regarding the pronounciation.
The French accent is often very strong and the German one quite slow and heavy when speaking Spanish. Of course it depends where you speak Spanish; meaning Argentina, Colombia, Spain or Venezuela for instance. The promounciations are quite different from country to country.
In fact if you are familiar with the Latin American reality, you know that someone from Mexico will know that an Artgentinian is not Mexican and so it repeats for most of the contries.
And all this is normal. If you are from Texas, somebody from San Francisco will aslo recognize you ecause of your accent.
So as long as you have a good knowledge of the vocabulary and not an extremelyy heavy accent, I would not care too much even if it is a nice challenge to overcome.

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Arthur May 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Accents are fun! Your post is quite amusing I have to say. However, as someone commented above, there are some native accents that can be too difficult. I have trouble pronouncing my last name the right way.

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Dan Poole June 8, 2013 at 7:10 am

I’ve been told that I have a native-like accent in French (I’m Australian).
I really think that accents are something that develop over time, and as long as you have your pronunciation down pat from the beginning, you’ll be sweet. No need to stress too much. My accent always begins to get better naturally once I’m at the intermediate/advanced stage of learning a language. I can speak Chinese and Spanish too (I have a blog about learning Chinese, too, if anyone’s keen). Dan

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