Which accent do you want to emulate?
Photo credit: Abi Ismail (photo modified)
Time and time again students will tell me that they want to "sound more English". All well and good, but sounding English is not as simple as having a grasp of the grammar, knowing some phrases and not getting your false friends muddled. It is, of course, a combination of all these plus a few other aspects which are not as easy to identify or correct. And first of all, you have to ask yourself: which native English accent? There are many to choose from in the UK alone.
This is just a small sampling of the accents and languages spoken in the British Isles alone!
Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons
So, how can you improve your English accent? Irrespective of the accent you’re trying to emulate, the strategies remain the same. You need to expose yourself to the accent as much as possible. For most adult learners, it is unrealistic to spend an extended period of time in an English-speaking country.
The next best thing is to make sure you’re making English as much of your daily life as possible. How do Scandinavians speak English so well, you ask? A big advantage is that they watch TV and films in the original language. So the next time you watch a film with English-speaking actors, see if you can do without the dubbing. Turn on the subtitles (in English if possible) if you need a little help.
Also, listen to the speaker when you interact with English-language natives. I mean really listen. How do they say the words? Do their sentences go up or down at the end? Can you hear all of the vowels and consonants or are some of them swallowed? Does each word stand out alone, or are some words combined into one?
Another undervalued technique is mimicry. You might feel stupid, but try to mimic the sentences of native speakers as much as possible. Copy the way they use their voice and the rhythm of their sentences.
Finally, and this is more of a language aspect, try to listen out for and learn chunks of language. A native speaker will often use certain words together and it may sound unnatural if another combination is used. For example, you might be unhappy about going to work in the heavy rain. Strong rain is grammatically fine but sounds strange to a native speaker.
If you want to start right now, here are some recordings of different accents and an explanation of their characteristics.
In addition to language training, we also offer presentation and pronunciation coaching. Get in touch with us if you want to learn more!
By Laura B.