Learning to speak English is a huge accomplishment. Nothing is more frustrating than spending the time and effort it takes to learn English, only to discover native speakers can’t understand you. Accent reduction takes effort, but is an achievable goal. Below are some tips to help you reduce your accent and speak clear American English.
1. Focus on Phonemes
There are 44 phonemes in the English language. If you haven’t already, take the time to memorize the phonetic chart. If there is a word that you find others not understanding, review the phonetic pronunciation. Also, if you come across a new word, make sure you check the phonetic spelling when learning how to pronounce it.
2. The American “R”
One of the most distinct elements of an American accent is the “R” sound. It is very difficult for ESL students to produce. The American “R” is pronounced like a vowel, not a consonant. This means that the sound is produced without your tongue touching the top of your mouth. Once you feel confident about making the sound here are some phrases to practice. Don’t forget to record yourself.
• Real weird rear wheels
• Real rock wall, real rock wall, real rock wall
• Rolling red wagons
3. Record yourself
This can be tough. No one likes to hear themselves, but this is probably the best way to reduce your accent. There are many apps for smart phones that you can use to record yourself or use your PC. You could record 5 minutes of yourself speaking every day, doing ordinary things like talking on the phone, attending a meeting or running errands. Then every night listen to yourself and identify where your strengths and weaknesses are.
4. Listen carefully
In order to cultivate an American accent you need to be able to recognize and imitate the sounds. If you’re learning English in a non-English speaking country, you might not be regularly exposed to American English. Spend some time each day listening to speakers with an American accent. Try and pick out words that you notice they are pronouncing differently than you’ve been saying them. Below are some American English video websites.
5. Speed up
American speakers flow their words together. Sometimes when a non-native speaker is struggling to be understood that speak too slowly and articulate words too much. Speeding up actually helps the speaker to sound more natural.
6. Mindful Speaking
The only way you can improve your accent is if you speak with that in mind. That takes focus and concentration. Consider starting small. Try and focus on your accent for one hour a day and slowly build up to the whole day.
Some languages pronounce each word with equal emphasis (sometimes called stress). In English, syllables within a word and words within a sentence are pronounced with more emphasis / stress than other words. Careful listening will help you learn what words to emphasize and mindful speaking will help you practice. Here are some general syllable emphasis rules
Emphasis on the first syllable:
2 syllable nouns: Answer, student, doughnut
2 syllable adjectives: taller, sunny, pretty
Compound nouns: mailman, highlight, football
Emphasis on the last syllable:
2 syllable verbs: edit, trouble, open
Compound verbs: proofread, handpick, understand
I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know why, but singing is different than speaking. It’s easier to learn by singing. There are many American radio stations available on the web. Youtube can also be a great place to find your favorite American song.
9. Hire a tutor
Having a tutor is the fastest way to learn an American accent. There are many online tutors now available to help you practice your accent from anywhere in the world. Find someone who is an expert in accent reduction that you feel comfortable with.
This is obvious. However you pursue reducing you accent, you need to practice. Don’t be afraid that you are going to sound silly. Even over annunciate the American accent. Take the word “car” or “mother” for example. Don’t be afraid to really put the American “R” on the end of it. It’s unlikely that anyone would notice that you added too much “R”. Good luck!