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 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.