Pronunciation Advice

Let me start by stating that the title of this blog post is obviously clickbait. I don’t believe in perfection and I’m going to tell you why.

When talking about perfection, what is the standard? The way they speak in the UK? Well, which one of the 40 British dialects are you talking about? The way the queen speaks (called Received Pronunciation)? Well, that’s only 3% of the British population. Are you saying then that 97% of British people don’t speak English correctly?

Do you prefer the American accent? Which one? There are about 30 to choose from?

Not even native speakers of the English language agree on HOW to speak the English language, so why do you stress about it as an English learner?

For many, the answer is because they’ve personally been mocked as a result of their accent. I understand that feeling myself and it’s hard to deal with but if we manage to change our mindset, perhaps our interactions with native speakers will become more positive. You cannot control how the other person reacts but you can control how you approach the situation.

When our objective is to speak like an “American” or “British” we’re setting ourselves up for failure. There are scientific reasons demonstrating why reaching native-like status is not realistic as an adult learner, but what is attainable is being able to communicate effectively. There is no age limit on that.

So my advice to you is: Do everything you can to be understood. Here’s what that looks like in practice.

I started learning German in my late 20’s. That means I will never speak Hochdeutsch the way someone born in northern Germany does. When I’m in a social gathering with other Germans, I answer questions to the best of my abilities. When I notice that the other person hasn’t exactly understood what I meant to say, I try to say it in another way. When that doesn’t work, I pull out my phone and search for the word on Google Translate. Sometimes, I don’t understand the other person so I ask, “kannst du das bitte wiederholen?” or “nochmal bitte.” Guess what, it works. I’ve made German friends and had long conversations with dozens of German people here.

How can I develop that type of confidence in my English interactions?

See your accent as your personal style. Have you ever dressed up for a special event and felt like a million bucks? That’s how I felt on my wedding day because it was one of the few times in the last seven years when I wore a dress shirt. See the way you pronounce words as an extension of your style and personal identity. It’s an opportunity to share what makes you different and unique in your current environment.

photo credit to @wanessaschell

See your accent as an act of bravery. Native English speakers are notoriously monolingual. Since English is the language of the world, they often feel they have no necessity to learn another language. They can stay in their comfort zone and never challenge themselves to be understood in a second language. The fact that you are attempting to speak to someone in a second language demonstrates that you are brave and courageous. I respect you for trying and you should pat yourself on the back for it. You are a superhero in my books.

See your accent as a growing plant. French speakers often struggle with the pronunciation of the letter H in English. Spanish speakers struggle with the TH sound. Keep practicing and don’t forget that you are a work in progress. You haven’t reached the end of your journey. You will continue to learn and develop your language abilities. Have patience. A plant doesn’t come out of the ground in one night. It takes sunlight, water and good soil to help it grow over time. As long as you are practicing and using proper learning techniques, you will reach your language goals.

I hope the next time you walk into a social setting with English speakers you walk in like a Hollywood celebrity at the premiere of a summer box office hit. Keep your head up knowing you’ve got a Superman S across your chest. And always remember to stay humble and continue to develop your skills over time.

If you’re looking to improve your English language skills and confidence, don’t hesitate to send me a message today.  

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