12 Experts Reveal How to Improve Your English Accent

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ask-the-experts-50_0English.

The most studied language in the world. 

By far:

According to the Washington Post, there were 1.5 billion learners of English in the world in 2015.

The next most studied language, French, came in at a mere 82 million.

Now, if you couple all that with the fact that a large portion of Smart Language Learner visitors come from countries where English isn’t an official language, you’ll understand that it was only a matter of time before I published a post aimed at all those English learners.

Welcome to Ask the Experts number 4!

As the title suggests, this post is all about how you can improve your English accent/pronunciation.

Therefore, the question I posed to the Experts was the following:

What’s Your Best Tip on How to Improve Your English Accent?

Now don’t fret if you are a native English speaker, most of the tips from the experts are perfectly applicable to any language!

So let’s not waste any more space and dive right in:

Use the quick links below to instantly jump to the expert of your choice … or … make yourself a cup of coffee, a cup of tea or grab a beer, and start reading from the first tip!

Shayna Oliveira from Espresso English
Mau from English Central
Zdenek Vanícek from News in Levels
Idahosa Ness from the Mimic Method
Anthony Metivier from the Magnetic Memory Method
Theresa Blackmore from Living Learning English
Jovana Cenejac from Saundz
Kate from Edufind
Shanthi Streat from English with a Twist
Gabby from Go Natural English
Aaron Knight from Phrasemix
Mystery Person from …??

Shayna-OliveiraShayna Oliveira

Shayna Oliveira is the blogger and teacher at Espresso English, a site aimed at helping you improve your English even if you don’t have much time to study.

The “shadowing technique” is a very effective way to improve your accent. Here’s how to do it:

  • Get an audio recording + transcript of a native speaker talking at normal speed.
  • Listen to ONLY the first short phrase, then pause the audio and try to repeat the phrase exactly, imitating the native speaker’s rhythm and the “flow” of the words. Then continue – listen, pause, repeat after each phrase
  • Want a bigger challenge? Try to do this WITHOUT looking at the text. This is difficult and it’s possible you won’t understand everything – but it will be better for improving your pronunciation.

This method works because it helps you learn the correct pronunciation with your EARS (hearing and imitating), not with your EYES (seeing the word and reading it aloud).

You’re practicing everything – the sounds, the “music” of English, connecting the words – without interference from seeing the written form of the word. This is especially important because many English words are written differently from the way they are pronounced.

This technique is similar to the way that native English-speaking children learn how to talk – so it’s great for improving your accent! 

Mau-Mau

Mau is an analyst of English Central, a website with over 10000 English video lessons, and 1-on-1 classes with English tutors.

What we can suggest is for you to practice regularly.

Speaking in English in a regular manner might not be a habit that you have as of the moment but if you make it a point that you get to speak English in your everyday conversations with friends, colleagues or family, you will get used to it and eventually have an accent.

It is also advised that you watch English movies or television programs.

You will learn a lot by watching and listening! You might notice that there is a wide variation of the English accents that you will encounter. This actually has something to do with the location of the speaker. Though this is the case, you will be able to find one that suits you.

Zdenek-VanícekZdenek Vanícek

Zdenek Vanicek is the co-founder of News in Levels. A website that provides world news for students of English in 3 levels of difficulty. Zdenek and his team also created programs English Restart and Grammar for Speaking.

I think that the best way to improve an English accent is to repeat after native speakers. I recommend using the technique called “Shadowing”.

Shadowing is basically copying what hear when you hear it. For more information go to www.youtube.com and search for “shadowing technique”. You can apply this technique when using News in Levels.

Idahosa-NessIdahosa Ness

Idahosa Ness is the creator of the Mimic Method. He teaches people how to sing, rap and mimic foreign languages with a perfect accent. Check out his Flow Training Courses here.

Find someone who has a lot of audio/video recordings of himself/herself talking about:

  1. something you find interesting who
  2. has a voice that you like and
  3. is similar in vocal quality and attitude to your own voice, then practice mimicking his/her accent as closely as you can both slow speed and fast on YouTube.

15 minutes a day will make a big difference.

Anthony-MetivierAnthony Metivier

Anthony Metivier is a memorization expert who holds a BA and MA in English Literature, an MA in Media & Communications and a PhD in Humanities. He’s the creator of the Magnetic Memory Method and the man behind several memory courses like the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass.

The best way to improve your accent is to have the words and phrases flawlessly memorized. This way, you can practice pronunciation without thinking about the material you’re working on. 

Think of it like singing. The best singers don’t just spit out lyrics. They interpret them. In order to interpret them, they need to have them readily available for recall. They can’t interpret by reading them from a page or stuttering to pull them up from memory. They need to own the source material. 

 It’s the same thing with pronunciation: own the information and then work like a sculptor to form it through speaking and listening practice. Writing and reading while sounding the words will help too. 

Finally, it’s a good idea to have the phonetic alphabet memorized and spend time imagining where your tongue should touch your mouth when speaking words.

Do this without moving your tongue while you visualize and imagine the touch sensation. This simple exercise will help you a great deal in addition to using mnemonics to get the words and phrases available for recall in the first place. 

Theresa-BlackmoreTheresa Blackmore

Theresa Blackmore is the Academic Manager of Living Learning English, a UK-wide network of professional home tuition courses (homestays at teacher’s residence).

A good tip for improving your pronunciation is to listen more! 

Listening to English regularly will help you with the patterns of connected speech.

See if you can hear a word or phrase in your head before you try to say it and think about where sound is made in the mouth – even watch yourself in the mirror!

Jovana-CenejacJovana Cenejac

Jovana Cenejac is an English teacher currently working for Saundz, English Pronunciation Software, as a language consultant. She is interested in educational technology and how online resources are influencing the way English is learned and taught.

When it comes to improving any aspect of language learning, including accent, you need to identify your problematic areas first.

You need to be aware of your weak spots, whether you have troubles while pronouncing individual sounds, or with intonation, stress, or rhythm of the English language, since these features differ from language to language, and our own native language might interfere and cause difficulties.

When you identify problematic areas, focus on perfecting them.

The best way to practice is to immerse yourself in real life speech. If you don’t have an opportunity to interact with native speakers of English, watch movies and shows and pay attention to how native speakers talk. Also, make use of online video materials or apps that teach you proper pronunciation.

Kate-Kate

Kate is the founder of Edufind, a collection of free English resources aimed at helping you study what is most interesting or important to you.

Try to look at native speakers and pay attention to the face mussels they move while speaking.

Also, try to identify if the language sound nasal or coming from the throat, for instance. In short, try to understand the physiology that’s behind the sound of the language.

Shanthi-StreatShanthi Streat

Shanthi Streat is the woman behind the English with a Twist blog. She’s also an English Language Trainer and teaches English, one-on-one, to business people.

First of all, I would differentiate between accent and pronunciation.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with speaking English with an accent. After all, every single native speaker of English speaks with an accent. Think American, British, Indian, Australian and so on. You can have an Italian accent and be perfectly understood by your peers.

The key is to ensure that your pronunciation of words is clear and understood. If you have difficulty with certain sounds that could cause misunderstanding, for example, instead of pronouncing ‘bath’ /bɑ:θ/ you pronounce it ‘bus’ /bʌs/, you need to work on those sounds.

One way you can do this is by listening carefully to other English speakers (in a presentation or audio recording -BBC Learning English or Ted Talks) and repeating what they’ve said. All Ted Talks have transcripts making it easier to follow.

Record your speech and play it again comparing your speech to the English speaker. Keep repeating it until you are satisfied with your spoken production.

You can repeat this exercise with short phrases you hear around you (watching TV programs or films).

Gabby-Gabby

Gabby is the founder of Go Natural English, a website that aims to help you make the jump from classroom to real world English. She also holds a Master Degree in teaching English.

English has many words which contain silent letters such as should, would, and could which contain the unpronounced “l.”

For another example, Wednesday just does not sounds like it is spelled. English also contains the words “err”, “air”, and “heir” which are all spelled completely differently and yet are pronounced the same.

So you can not always judge a word’s pronunciation by how it is spelled! Be sure to check your pronunciation with your teacher, or online with an audio dictionary.

Aaron-KnightAaron Knight

Aaron Knight is the founder of PhraseMix which aims to help you speak English more naturally and confidently. He also taught English in Japan.

Here’s a strange suggestion, but an effective one. 

When you speak English, don’t think of it as you speaking. Pretend that you’re someone else. Do an impression of a native English speaker. An “impression” is when you try to copy someone’s unique way of speaking and acting.

Doing an impression of an English speaker loosens you up. It makes it feel a little less silly to make new sounds that you’re not used to making. You might even find that you develop a different personality than the one that you have in your native language.

To make this technique most effective, pick a specific English speaker who you want to sound like. It can be a celebrity or someone you know personally. Whenever you speak, try to pretend that you’re that person.

Mistery-Mystery Person

Oops, I made a mess of this one. For the first time I used Google forms for an Ask the Experts post. And to know who submitted the form you must also add a name field to it. I forgot to do that!!! But … lesson learned. Now all I need to know is which expert sent me the excellent contribution below. If you’re the one, please contact me here and I’ll clean up my mess.

Imitate. It sounds embarrassing, and it is a bit at first, but developing your ear is key to controlling your accent.

You’re going to struggle more if you’ve been speaking English with an accent you don’t like for a long time. You’ve had a lot of practice with that accent, and changing it won’t be a matter of a single day, but it’s entirely possible.

So let’s get down to nuts and bolts. I’m learning Spanish right now and the way I’m working on my accent is this:

  1. I listen to podcasts, all Castilian Spanish since that’s the variety I’m trying to learn. No need to confuse my ear with many different accents at this point. I listen to these in the kitchen, while I jog, etc., maybe 3 hours a day. I don’t understand everything, and these are not Spanish learning podcasts (I listen to those when I can concentrate on them). These are just regular Spanish talk radio. I’m a beginner, so I listen mostly to either travel or science podcasts. Those have lots of familiar vocabulary (I already speak French) and a reduced range of topics.
  2. Several times a day, I find a sentence or two in a podcast and I type it out (as well as I can), then I read it aloud and record myself reading. I listen to my recording, I listen to the original podcast, and then I record again. I can easily record myself 5 times on the same sentence. What I’m trying to do is hear myself and get my own pronunciation as close as possible to the original. I imitate the podcaster as closely as I can, not just words but pitch, tone of voice, speed. I work on the shape of my mouth, my tongue position. It’s strangely intimate, but nobody’s watching.

One more thing about imitation:

If you live with a native English speaker or work with one closely, you can probably hear that person’s voice in your head. Imitate it!

It feels weird to impersonate someone, and you think the he might notice, but in my experience all he will notice is how great your accent has become.

So that’s my tip: Get the accent you want into your head, then imitate it for all you’re worth.

Thanks Guys and Gals!

As always, a BIG thanks to the experts: Thank you!

Now, this feature isn’t called Ask the Experts for nothing. You can participate, you can ask a question.

Send me your question here.

The most frequently asked questions will be featured in an Ask the Experts post.

So What do YOU Think?

This post is almost done, my dear reader.

There’s just one thing left to ask:

What’s your best tip on how to improve your English accent?

Your opinion really adds to the discussion, so please let me know in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Nice Article.

  2. This post really helped me to find out authentic english learning topic.

  3. I agree with Shayna and Zdenek.

    Shadowing is an excellent technique for improving your accent because you’re really mimicking the sound of a native speaker.

  4. This is very very useful source for those who are suffering and wants to improve their English accent including me.

  5. Thanks for sharing useful information.

  6. This post is helpful to improve English accent. Thanks for sharing this great blog.

  7. Nice post. Thanks for providing useful information. Keep it up!!

  8. I loved the way you discuss the topic great work thanks for the share.

  9. This is great information for students. This article is very helpful i really like this blog thanks. I also have some information relevant for online dissertation help.

  10. This site and the resources you provide is really nice keep it up.

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  13. Shadowing is a magnificent system for enhancing your articulation since you’re truly imitating the sound of a local speaker.

  14. Thanks for helping, working on my accent now. Blessings

  15. I liked Aaron Knight’s technique and I automatically feel the same, but not dramatically.
    However, I’ve been trying to be blossomed through all those methods to spark my interest in learning languages.
    And yes, I also do a voice over with movie clips and that targets like four birds with one stone (won’t say two) 😉 because it works on listening, pronunciation and accent with fluency as well.

  16. I am very poor at English Accent, I was needy of this post, great thanks to you for sharing this such nice post..!

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