Is a native-like accent in a foreign language achievable?

Is a native-like accent in a foreign language achievable?

People who have perfect and precise pronunciation when speaking a language are often referred to as people with an “exquisite accent”. Being able to speak French or Spanish fluently like a native speaker means having an absolute mastery of the language. The term “exquisite accent” is used in the language field when the pronunciation of the foreign language reaches high levels of perfection.

It is certainly not easy to achieve an exquisite accent, but it is possible to get it.

One of the most profitable methods to have perfect phonetics and to achieve a native speaker's pronunciation is undoubtedly the practical exercise, i.e. to practise a lot in speaking but above all to listen to the language over and over again.

In this article you are going to find out how to improve pronunciation and have a broad command of the spoken foreign language.

Record your voice

An advice I would like to give you is to record conversations you have the foreign language you are studying either on your PC or on your smartphone, so that you can hear your own voice. In this way it will be easier to identify the mistakes made and which sounds you need to improve as people always tend to focus on communication rather than the sounds emitted. Usually, the mistakes are made in the articulation of the sounds, which require a lot of practice.

You can also do this with fun activities, such as singing your favourite songs or doing karaoke online.

Practice facial mimicry

You can start by talking slowly, with your eyes closed, focusing on the articulation of sounds. In order to perform them correctly, facial mimicry is also important. In some foreign languages, such as English, there are sounds that are difficult for some foreigners such as th, whose pronunciation requires the positioning of the tongue between the teeth and the emission of the air to the outside. So, in addition to recordings, it is also necessary to speak in front of the mirror and watch videos of a native speaker to perfect the expressions of the facial muscles.

Work in a group and with native speakers

Another way to get an exquisite accent is to practice in a group with other people who are learning the same foreign language and get help from a native speaker. In fact, a native speaker will be able to spot any mistakes and help you correct any pronunciation problems in real time and avoid repeating them.

Choose an accent to refer to

American English or British English? Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese? When it comes to improving pronunciation, it is always better to choose from the beginning the variant that we like best or that is most useful for our purposes, since most of the differences between variants of the same language often lie in the accent.

Train your hearing

After choosing the accent you prefer, train your hearing by listening to podcasts, songs, interviews, radio or TV broadcasts to get used to the pronunciation you would like to learn.

To learn the intonation and pronunciation of a sentence or phrase, you first need a sentence or phrase to learn from. For beginners, the best place to get phrases for accent practice is usually from textbooks and other student specific resources. This is because these resources often provide audio versions of the texts they contain.

What you want to do is read these texts and listen to their audio version at the same time. The audio files, of course, will give you all the auditory information you need to understand how to correctly intone and pronounce sentences. The text will give you an "anchor" so that you can link the sounds you are listening to the written symbols that represent those sounds.

This activity is extremely useful for improving your accent, as it eliminates all the guesswork to try to interpret how a text should be pronounced. Assuming that the voice on the audio file is that of a native speaker, you now have a perfect "accent template" to try to emulate.

Learn the flow of the language

The pronunciation is very important, but that's not all. You may be able to pronounce every single word perfectly like native speakers, but still speak differently. This is because you need to have the right flow.

Let's take the English language as an example. What exactly is its flow?

An important element is the so-called "connected speech". This is the way the end of one word and the beginning of the next word interact.

Specifically, a native speaker has the ability to:

- Combine two sounds. When a word ends with a consonantal sound and the next word begins with the same sound, both sounds are pronounced together as one.

Example: I'd decide it later.

- Connect two sounds. If the first word ends with a consonant and the next word begins with a vowel, a native speaker will connect the consonant with the vowel as if they belonged to the same word.

Example: I'd like a fried egg.

- Make a sound disappear. When the sound "t" or "d" is between two consonant sounds, it is often not pronounced at all.

Example: See you nex(t) week!

- Also, native speakers almost always use contracted forms (short words created by combining two separate words) to speak faster. Here are some of the most common examples:

I + am = I'm

I + will = I'll

do + not = don't

I + have = I've

I + would= I'd

While listening to a native speaker, also pay attention to the accents and rhythm. Native speakers are used to raise their voices or produce longer sounds for words that require more attention: in other words, they accentuate the most important words.

Take care of your accent from the start

The initial temptation is to start talking right away and quickly but, in this way, we won't pay attention to our accent and start talking "bad". Especially at the beginning it's important to get used to speaking slowly and paused to pay attention to different sounds and start to reproduce an accent more similar to the original.

Find a role model to imitate

Look for someone to inspire you among actors, singers or public figures and try to imitate him. For example, if you want a British accent you can choose between Colin Firth or Sean Connery. If you want to improve your pronunciation in French then Gérard Depardieu and Sophie Marceau are great models...or why not, even President Hollande!

Train your vocal cords

Pronunciation also depends on physical factors, so you have to learn to move your mouth in a new way, using different muscles. Focus your efforts on the most difficult sounds. For example, if you have problems pronouncing the English "th", put your tongue between your teeth and blow, trying to understand the position your mouth is in. Try repeating the exercise on a daily basis and little by little you will notice that it will be easy to reproduce the original sound.

Are you getting any help from your language exchange friends to improve your accent? Let us know in the comments! if you get help from a native speaker, follow these little tips and have a little patience you will surely reach a perfect pronunciation level!

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange