A Perfect Accent?

Do you think having a perfect accent is possible?

For all practical purposes, I don’t really think so anymore unless a) the sounds in your native language happen to coincide with those in the language you’ve learnt or b) you’ve learnt the new language since childhood.

Let’s take the language that is the most learnt in the world: English. I, for one, haven’t met anybody speak absolutely without an accent.  Seriously. I have met a lot of people with I could say perfect grammar but not with a perfect accent.  Just haven’t seen him/her. Politicians speak with an accent. Journalists speak with an accent. Football players speak with an accent (after all they have got a nearly-perfect environment to learn the language, haven’t they?).

How would you go about trying to make your accent more perfect, though?

A lot of people say you will pick it up by listening. Although listening helps, I don’t think you’ll pick everything up by just doing it. Neither by speaking. When you are speaking, you learn to pronounce so that you are understood, not that you pronounce perfectly.

I’d say it would be best to begin with sounds. I’d look at IPA tables (tables of sounds) for your native language and for the language you are learning and try to identify the sounds that you have in both languages. This is pretty hard to do because it’s hard to find IPA tables for some smaller languages (like Lithuanian) but I imagine it’s doable. Then you can identify all the sounds that do not coincide in your language and the one that you are learning and try to learn to pronounce them. Find guides or people who explain you where your lips must be, what the position of your tongue should be and so on and try to imitate that (before a mirror, if needed). Alternatively, find the sound pronounced slowly on good quality audio and record yourself trying to imitate that.

Also, I have found a site online for English accent training. It kind of lacks IPA tables and more practical tips. I have also found a book called Pronounce it Perfectly in English but it seems that it lacks video or more elaborate instructions. However, it has explanations about how to make these sounds and that’s a good thing. I think these are the resources that we should have more of. I didn’t find these for other languages like Japanese, Spanish or French.  Perhaps these could come in useful as people become more interested in improving their accent.

P.S. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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  1. This is my first time reading your blog. I really like languages, too. I can only speak two; Spanish (Native, Argentina), and English as a second language. I've found a guy on YouTube who sounds native in Spanish. If I hadn't known that he was from Italy, he could've easily passed as a native Spanish-speaker. His name is Luca and he speaks 8 languages. However, you're right when you say that it's easier when languages belong to the same family such as Spanish and Italian.Regards,B

  2. Of ocurse it becomes easier to fabric a good accent in a foreign language when it's close to your native language, but even if it's further away I don't think it's impossible.It all comes down to listening, practising, analysing your problems, etc. Of course, your listening abilities also play a role, as not everyone picks up different sounds that easily.One example: I had some huge problems with the difference between the guttural R and the alveolar R. In Dutch I always use the guttural R as I was raised in a region of the Netherlands where they only use this variant of the R. When I started learning Spanish I couldn't even hear the difference between a guttural R and an alveolar R!Listening and analysing eventually helped me noting the difference, but I know many people who -even after listening to the differences- don't hear it.So it's a combination between hard work and 'being lucky' to nail down a truly native accent.

  3. Aonde você foi? Desistiu do blog?
    Where are you? Did you gave up the blog?

  4. Eu não desistí do blog e vou escrever daqui a pouco. Só é que tinha exames e também não tinha muitas coisas pra escrever. :)

  5. Ah, que bom! Espero que tenhas novas idéias para postar pra nós!
    A propósito, você já usou algum software de SRS (http://ichi2.net/anki/) no seu aprendizado de idiomas?

    Até mais!

  6. Não usei nunca. Mas acho que eu não gostaría de flashcards.

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