Monday, April 28, 2008

Can I really lose my accent?

The phrases that we use to describe learning an American English accent are misleading. We don't really need to "lose" our accents. What the goal is, is to learn an new way of pronouncing words, so that when we want to we can sound American.

Building on the sound system from your first language you can build up an American sound system. This may seem similar, lose you accent or gain an accent. Many will tell you that it is just a matter of semantics (a new way of saying the same old thing). But that is inaccurate. When we say we will lose our accents it reinforces cultural and psychological blocks to learning pronunciation. Our speech either subconsciously or consciously is deeply a part of who we are. To say that we will "lose" our accent is incorrect and slightly insulting.

In the end you would still like the answer, whether or not you are losing or gaining. If the question really is "can I sound American?", then the answer is yes. Of course you can.

It does take practice because it is not just an intellectual feat, but a physical one as well. You need to first grasp the information, what it takes to execute the sounds and features of spoken American English, then you must get comfortable with the changes physically.

Lets compare it to learning golf or tennis. The instructor must help you conceptualize how to execute the stroke, then you have to practice what you learned. Teach your muscles the new movement. When you first try the new stroke, it may feel awkward, you need to think about each movement necessary to execute the new stroke, the results might not be as good as with your old stroke. However with practice the new stroke becomes more natural and you find the new way is easier, and more effective.

This is similar to speech because speech takes the coordination of thought and muscles to execute. Luckily though practice comes easily because we all talk everyday! And I promise no sore muscles as with learning a sport!

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