Getting to grips with the grammar and vocab but haven’t managed to get the accent yet? Everyone knows that this is one of the most challenging parts of learning a foreign language. Yes, we all naturally have a slight accent in another language because the muscles in our mouths are used to the sounds of our own language. But fear not! I know some simple things you can do to improve it.
1. Get as much exposure to the spoken language as possible
This could be by watching films and TV shows, listening to the radio or just by talking to native speakers. It’s useful to train yourself by putting on the TV or radio in the background whilst you’re doing something else like cooking or running. Sounds sink in without you even realising.
Try: La vita è bella is a sweet film for learning Italian; or why not watch Москва слезам не верит (Moscva slezam ne verit – Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears) if you’re learning Russian?
2. Say the sounds out loud every day
Practise saying the most difficult sounds out loud in the language you are learning. When you do this, pay attention to the way your mouth moves and the position of your tongue. This will help you train your muscles to work in new ways.
Try: If you’re learning French you might want to practise the ‘r’ sound by making sure it comes from the back of the throat. Or, if it’s Chinese you’re learning, why not practise pronouncing the four different tones out loud?
3. Learn tongue twisters
Tongue twisters can really help with practising your accent. Find one that’s not too difficult, repeat it a few times slowly (you can even do this in front of the mirror to see how your mouth moves) and then try and speed up!
Try: Here’s a Spanish one for you: Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril, rápido ruedan los carros, cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril. (lit. An R with an R cigar, an R with an R barrel; rapidly run the cars loaded with sugar of to the railroad.) Or in German: Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz. (lit. Fisherman’s boy Fritz is fishing fresh fish, fresh fish is fished by fisherman’s boy Fritz.)
4. Record yourself
Recording yourself is a really useful way of hearing where you get the accent right and where you go wrong. It also trains the muscle memory in your mouth, which, after some practice, will make it much easier for you to pronounce those sounds you don’t have in your own language.
Try: Listen to a podcast (Podclub is a good app for this) or an audiobook in the language you’re learning. Pause after a word or sentence you like. Then, record yourself saying it back so that you can compare your accent with the original.
5. Write down words the way you hear them in your language
If you don’t know the phonetic alphabet, it’s useful to write down a word the way you hear it in your native language.
Try: For English speakers learning French, you could spell the word quinze (fifteen) as ‘cans’. Or, if you’re an English speaker learning Portuguese, you might write the word beijos as ‘beyjos’. It really helps!