I feel lucky because English is my first language. I have never had to struggle with pronunciation and spelling or grammar rules and exceptions. But as an English teacher, I have worked with people from all over the world who have learned or are currently learning English. I have assisted and guided many through the process of improving their spoken English. I have seen how they struggle.
Although I have not had to experience the pain of learning English, the experiences of my clients and students made me think back to how I learned Spanish and Chinese. Like many of you, I studied Spanish throughout junior and senior high school. I learned a lot of vocabulary and grammar, could read and write some, but had almost no occasion to speak Spanish. Then I went to Mexico on an intensive study program. That’s where I truly learned to speak. I lived with a Mexican family, watched Mexican soap operas, listened to Mexican music and interacted with the town’s people as I went about daily life. However, upon returning home and continuing my studies, my Spanish teacher commented that my pronunciation “left a lot to be desired”, meaning that it was terrible! Well, that hurt, but I had no idea what to do about it. So, I just kept doing what I was doing and I didn’t give up, since I loved learning the language and about the culture. The trip I took to Mexico introduced me to Mexican rock music, which I loved. Every day, I sang along to my favorite songs and continued taking classes in college. I also made more Spanish-speaking friends. Years later, I went back to Mexico, and this time, things were different. People actually thought I was a native speaker.
As I think back on that experience, it seems I accidentally stumbled upon a couple of the keys to effortlessly improving accent in any language. Want to know more? Join my free class “5 Days to a Better Accent”. If you are wondering about the Chinese, I have a completely different experience that I’ll share another time.
One of the main causes of a foreign accent when learning another language is interference from our native language. As babies and young children, our brains learn which sounds are and are not important. The young child’s brain quickly learns to dismiss the sounds not included in our mother tongue, and at some point we are no longer able to distinguish them. We do not even notice them, and may have difficulty hearing them, even when they are pointed out to us.
So, English may have sounds that don’t exist in your native language. Therefore, you substitute an incorrect sound for the English sound. For example, you may not have some or all of the short/relaxed vowel sounds in your language. So you pronounce the “I” in the word “it” as “eat” or the “a” in “man” as “mon”.
Or, perhaps you DO have the sound in your language, but you don’t realize the spelling rules from your language don’t apply to English. Let’s take the letter “o” as an example. You may incorrectly assume when you see an “o”, you pronounce it “oh”, when it fact in many cases, it may be an “ah” sound, like the names of these 2 stores: Ross, Costco. You should pronounce the “o” here just like you would in the words “job” or “dog”, with an “ah” sound.
Furthermore, we automatically apply the sound system and intonation patterns we learned for our mother tongue to the new language. So now, we need awareness of what’s important in the new language and we need practice to form new habits. A famous wise man once said, “When you are ready to learn, the teacher will appear”. Are you ready to learn? Join my free class “5 Days to a Better Accent” and you will find out about the most important things to focus on to improve your accent and speak more understandably right now. You will also learn fun and easy ways to practice to make your new pronunciation an unconscious part of your speech.
It is not necessarily bad to have an accent, and for some people I would not recommend spending time trying to change your speech. If people have trouble understanding you and your oral English is interfering with your life (in work, school, your business or your personal life), then your will likely benefit from improving your speech. The opportunities available to you and your quality of life will improve as a result.
People have many reasons for wanting to change their accent. In my opinion, there are two occasions when you really need to make the effort to change. One, when your accent hinders communication & causes misunderstandings & people ask you to repeat yourself often. Two, when you are losing opportunities in life due to your accent. For example, not getting a job or being promoted, losing potential clients, not speaking because you are embarrassed by your speech. If you experience any of these thing, then, you should make the effort to change.
And last but not least, I’d like to mention that there is no one true and correct accent for English or any other language. Speech is a way for humans to communicate with one another. Whichever speech allows you to communicate successfully with those around you is correct speech. If you consciously want to improve your speech, you should choose to imitate the accent that is most useful for you personally, the easiest for you to learn or the one you prefer. Are you ready to work on your American English accent? Join my free “5 Days to a Better Accent” class. Learn to speak clear, understandable English and experience the confidence and success that brings.
Today I entered a new reality. It's a reality filled with adoring fans, screaming for autographs and pictures and boys telling me I'm beautiful. They hang on my every word, even though they can't understand what I"m saying. My name is in lights on the marquee, and there is a lavish banquet in my honor. No, this is not a dream. Strangely, this was my world today. I was taken to a middle school in another town to do a workshop for the English teachers at the school. Although the city is big, it has a small-town feel. No one has ever seen a westerner in person, and I caused quite a stir. I was the show-and-tell object of the year. Upon arrival at the school, as we were walking to the building, the other teacher with me pointed out the marquee - yes, my name was on it as if I were a rock singer in concert. I laughed and took several pictures. I went in and gave my two-hour workshop to the teachers and things went as expected, except that as students passed by the room, they would group around the window and stare in mesmerized and giggle and chatter. When the workshop finished, things turned funnier. I was taken to various classrooms packed with children to give short motivational speeches to them to practice English, study hard, etc, etc. They cheered, they screamed, a few tried their best to ask me questions in English. As I'm quickly whisked away to another classroom, children are running down the hall after us thrusting books and pens at me. They all want me to sign their English books! Some want pictures, a few asked for hugs. All want my QQ contact info (a cell phone chat program that everyone is on in China). After that, I was taken to a restaurant in a fancy hotel, where we had an amazing dinner with 10 people and tons of wonderful and expensive food (crab, rack of lamb, etc.) I'm a celebrity here, and all because I'm foreign. I'm apparently the most exciting thing to happen in a long time. How can I ever return to the U.S. and a life of being ordinary?
There are many ways to get around in China. Of course, there are cars, buses and taxis, and we've often seen images of Chinese people commuting by bicycle on TV and in movies. But there's a whole other convenient way to travel. It's by scooter or electric bicycle. They're better than a car because they're very inexpensive, they can go anywhere and get you places fast, even in traffic. I had my first experience riding as a passenger today. I had lunch downtown with several other English teachers. I took the bus, so of course got off at the wrong place, since I don't know my way around town, and am unable to ask for directions since I am deaf, mute and illiterate here. Fortunately, I have a cell phone, so my new buddy zipped over and picked me up. I hopped on behind her and we quickly flew across town through streets and alleyways.
We were a bit off the main street, so after lunch, one of the Chinese ladies offered to give me a ride to the bus stop. This ride was more interesting. We not only rode on the street with all the other vehicles, but also the wrong way into oncoming traffic and up on the sidewalk. Watch out pedestrians - vehicles always have the right-of-way here. Driving habits are somewhat unusual here. They obey stoplights, but drive wherever there happens to be space (in the right direction, wrong direction, on the sidewalk), but they drive fairly slowly and there seems to be few traffic incidents.