You know that TV show Americans? It’s about a pair of Russian spies who manage to convince everyone they meet that they’re American. Their accent is impeccable and their grammar perfect.
Does this sound believable to you? Can an English learner really learn how to sound like a native speaker? Outside the realm of movies, of course.
I believe that with work and dedication you can improve your pronunciation immensely and, over time, reach a point where your accent in English might differ only slightly from that of a native speaker (or not at all!)
This, of course, depends on the effort you put in. There are people who just have a knack for languages and can pick them up really easily, but even they need a lot of practice to sound like a native. It’s not enough to know the rules of grammar and have an extensive vocabulary – you must also work hard on your pronunciation.
So, whether you want to perfect your English in order to teach English in China, for example, or to move up in your career, or perhaps to become a successful spy, try some of these tips and methods of practice:
1. Immerse yourself in the language
Most of us learned how to speak our native language because we grew up surrounded by people speaking it around us. As children, we acquire language, we don’t learn it. Our brain just picked things up. This changes in adulthood, however, and the process of acquiring a language becomes more difficult.
So, why not “recreate” the childhood conditions? Surround yourself with English as much as you can and let your subconscious pick it up.
If you can’t live in a country where English is spoken as a first language, you can always use technology to your advantage. In this day and age, we have access to an enormous amount of video and audio materials. There are countless TV channels, movies and series,songs, radio shows… Just choose whatever suits you most and play it whenever you can. Do your household chores, eat, play with your pet, and simply let English “flow” into your brain.
Find tips on how you can do this and many more immersion ideas on Linguasorb’s Ultimate Guide to at-home immersion.
2. Pay attention to how your lips and tongue move
Many non-native English speakers need to learn how to pronounce sounds that don’t even exist in their mother tongues. This can sometimes be quite challenging, as it requires your lips and tongue to move in ways that you’re not used to.
To overcome this potential problem, you need to analyze what happens to your lips and tongue when you pronounce certain sounds. To do this, use a trick actors often turn to: stand in front of a mirror. This is by far the simplest way to see what your mouth is doing.
Also, watch closely when native speakers speak. Notice the shapes their mouth and lips make. With movies or TV shows, you can always play certain parts several times to take a really good look.
Now, it’s a bit trickier to see what the tongue does during pronunciation. You need to be aware of how it moves for various sounds and practice adjusting it.
If you’re not sure about the correct position of the tongue for a certain sound, there are many videos, pictures and explanations online that can help you.
Choose a favorite movie, a clip, or a TV show, play a certain part several times and listen very carefully. Think about the pitch changes and the musicality of the speech and repeat the words exactly as you hear them, even if you’re not sure of the individual words.
4. Add stress to sounds and words
English is a stressed language and sometimes where you put the stress in a word can change the word’s meaning. For example, in American English, the noun “ADDress” is the place where someone lives, while the verb “addRESS” means to speak to someone.
Sentences have stresses too. Some words in a sentence present more important information and are said with more clarity and strength than the rest of the sentence. You slow down when you get to the important words and quickly go over the less important ones.
If you’re not in a position to communicate to native speakers regularly, this too can be practiced using different online programs.
5. Record yourself
You need to be sure that you’re doing a good job at practicing pronunciation and one way of doing this is recording yourself.
Use a camera and not just a sound recorder because it’s important to see how you speak, not only hear it. Most computers and mobile devices have built-in video recorders, so you don’t need to get any special software or equipment.
It’s best to compare yourself to someone else saying the same words. Find a video of your favorite part of a movie or a show, choose a few sentences and record yourself saying them. Try to match the stress, tone and pronunciation of the video. Compare the two recordings and analyze the result. Ask yourself if you’re moving your lips and tongue the right way. Check if you’re stressing the right words. Then try again. And again.
6. Use idiomatic expressions and slang
Idioms exist in every language and, as is the case with most languages, they are used all the time in casual spoken English.
The use of colorful phrases like “break the ice” or “feeling under the weather” can add a level of sophistication to your English, making you sound more natural and more like a native speaker.
When you talk to native speakers, always ask them to explain to you the idioms they use that you don’t quite understand.
Like idioms, slang is also regularly used by native speakers. English slang has regional differences, so pay attention to that. Just remember that slang words are used informally, so you shouldn’t use them in professional situations.
7. Practice regularly with a native speaker
This is probably the most important step you can take to sound more like a native English speaker. It gives you the chance to check everything that you have been working on and also to learn many new things.
If you’re not surrounded by native speakers of English, there are online communities and language exchange sites like italki or My English Teacher, where you can find a perfect partner to practice with. Don’t forget to listen very carefully!
Some people are sceptical over whether a non-native English speaker can reach the pronunciation level of a native one. It is definitely very hard work, and requires strong will, but with a lot of practice, a dedicated learner can sound like a native speaker. Don’t give up!
Dimitris works as a full stack marketer at Movinhand. Movinhand helps educators get the salary they deserve. We promote teachers around the world and get them the best possible offer within 10 days of signing up.