The most studied language in the world.
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, a large portion of Smart Language Learner visitors come from countries where English isn’t an official language. It was only a matter of time before I published a post aimed at all those learners of English.
As the title suggests, this post is all about how you can improve your English accent/pronunciation.
I emailed several experts and English language bloggers and posed them the question:
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 time 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 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:
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 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 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 a technique called “Shadowing”.
Shadowing is basically copying what you 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.
Find someone who has a lot of audio/video recordings of himself/herself talking about:
15 minutes a day will make a big difference.
Anthony Metivier is a memorization expert who holds a BA and MA in English Literature, an MA in Media & Communications, and a Ph.D. 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 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 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 problem 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 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 sounds nasal or coming from the throat, for instance. In short, try to understand the physiology that’s behind the sound of the language.
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 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’s Degree in teaching English.
English has many words that 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 different 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 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.
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:
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 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!
So that concludes this mega post.
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!