Can you ever get rid of your foreign accent in a new language? How to perfect your accent?

Why is it just so damn hard nail down those foreign accents. I just can’t seem to get my mouth and throat give me that tone in my German of native speakers. US americans seem to have a sort of wobbly, flowy, kind of note vibration in our accents. There is a very specific kind of sound: they really quickly jump straight over their vowels to the consonants. I wonder if It’s just not possible to get into the ballpark unless you learned it as a child.

Can we ever really perfect an accent as adult learners or not?

Here is a funny example of an american trying to speak german.

“Can you ever get rid of your foreign accent in a new language?”


But you can get pretty close in an “old” language. Don’t expect to be able to pronounce any language at a near-perfect level until you have heard and used the language for thousands of hours.

That being said, a beginner can learn to mimic a good accent for a short amount of time, as in, for a few set phrases.

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Perhaps it’s beneficial to speak with a slight accent (as long as it doesn’t hinder communication). If you have a slight accent but speak extremely fluently then people will often praise you for how well you speak. :smiley: Whereas if you have a perfect accent you might just be treated like another German or whatever that they see everyday. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Even if you cannot fully lose your accent, you can take pains to be understandable. You’ll find any number of tutorial videos on YouTube about how to speak English with less of an accent. And I’ve seen a few the other way, on how to pronounce Russian better, e.g.

I deal with many, many people at work who are not native English speakers. Most have noticeable accents but are easily understandable with no effort. There are some, however, who just seem to never have made the effort to learn and use the proper sounds. Folks from India seem the worst to my ear in this regard, though they’re not alone. I assume that’s because Indians may speak English in India with other Indians from an early age, so it’s not so much a foreign language to them – they have it mastered and have no more reason to change their accents than Brits, Americans, or Aussies do theirs. (It’s just so dang hard to understand, though.)

There is one fellow I deal with occasionally who has a Slavic name but speaks with the softest, almost undetectable accent. I assume he has lived here for a very long time. Immersion as a child is probably the only way to guarantee no accent in multiple languages. I watched a few YouTube videos by a Russian family with a vlog who have lived in Los Angeles several years. In one video the older brother was helping his younger brother with a story book in English, and he had a perfect California accent as far as I could tell. When he looked up to respond to his father in Russian, of course that was flawless, too.

That’s quite unusual. I always find it a bit of a shock when a Russian speaker switches to English and suddenly they have a heavy Russian accent. I don’t hear a Russian accent when they’re speaking Russian, because it sounds the way it’s supposed to. Ergo no accent.

I haven’t tried speaking Russian to a native recently. I’m in no rush. Of course, I had to speak it regularly in the classroom, but that was many years ago with no native Russians to be seen. I believe I have the non-English sounds more or less mastered., but when saying more than a single phoneme I’m sure I have a very distinct accent and always will.

Listen more standard new language and simulate and practice more standard pronunciation, you can get rid of your foreign accent in a new language.

“Can we ever really perfect an accent as adult learners or not?”

As a young adult most certainly!

People have different opinions regarding age. Some say, just as you feel, that you’ve got to be a child to perfect an accent, the exact age at which this “magically” ends depends upon on many factors such as previous exposure to the language, if any, how similar the language is to the language one already speaks, individual differences and so on.

I’ve met teenagers who have learnt French in their teens with excellent accents.

I’ve met young adults who have learnt Swedish in their early twenties, Germans or Dutch, who pass as Swedes.

I have never, ever met anyone over the age of 30 who has learnt a language from scratch and ended up with accents anywhere nearly as good.

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Is hiring an ‘acting coach’ from your target language’s country (IE, hiring a German acting coach to help you) or perhaps an accent coach worth it, I wonder?

I beg to differ!

“Can you ever get rid of your foreign accent in a new language?”

As a young adult most certainly!

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I know two people who speak without an accent or with such a slight accent that you can only here it when they pronounce certain words.

Watch here for Luca: Poliglot Diskussionen: #4 Luca und Steve auf Deutsch - YouTube

The second person is our member David Martin: Login - LingQ
Some years ago I’ve talked to him several times in German and his German is amazing.

But it is very rare that people adopt the language so well. For me the main point is not getting rid of the accent. But you should be able to speak in a way that people have no trouble understanding you :slight_smile:

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I had never set myself as an object to get rid of my foreign accent in a new language.
To study a new language with single purpose to strive for it - it’s a false purpose.
I had always aimed to understand and to be understood.
To know more words in a foreign language is for me much more important than to speak without some foreign accent.
But the more you speak the new language the better your pronunciation can be, espercially if you live in the country of your target language and if you are quite attentive by listening native speakers…

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Emphasis on the word “new.”

For those young adults the language becomes anything but new. They spend tens of thousands of hours with the language, in a full on immersion experience that includes school, where teachers guide them in grammar particularities.

In Saint Petersburg, among the younger generation of English teachers, receiving their diplomas from the Philological Faculty at Saint Petersburg State, I have observed a very unhealthy fetishization of the perfect native-like accent. I have on more than one occasion been made to understand that I am not fully qualified to be an English teacher because I don’t know all the anatomical terms of the mouth necessary for explaining how to properly pronounce the English language. They have claimed that it is better for a teacher to be able to explain both a British accent and an American accent than for students to be able to communicate with a native. They want nativicity in English without introducing the foreign element - me. Welp, took a job in China, sayonara folks…

I don’t you should get rid of your Russian accent. What you should do is learn the thickest Hollywood style Russian accent you can.

Evgueny’s accent reminds me of half of the faculty at my American university - Don’t change it ever. Often foreigners don’t realize just how thick of an accent (Not to say Evgueny’s is thick - it’s not) you can get away with and be in a distinguished position in the United States or the UK, or Canada or wherever.

I think that you have to bare in mind that when people learn a new language, they aren’t taught how to pronounce well. Not really. They teach you how to pronounce words, but nobody teaches us how the rhythm of the language is, how you need to put your mouth or your tongue when you make a certain sounds…etc

Nobody corrects us when we don’t say a phrase or a word like a native!. If they understand what we are saying that’s good enough.

We may even have teachers with crappy accents themselves. And if that wasn’t enough we are told the belief that you can’t have an almost-like native accent anyways… etc

My point is that we don’t make any effort whatsoever to reach a native like accent, we are not taught how to. We don’t know how!, our ears aren’t trained to do it. So only if you’re good at picking up sounds and reproducing them you may get it, if not you are doomed!. 97% of us are doomed!

I wouldn’t say that we’re “doomed.” I would say that most important adults in my life growing up had thick accents. (Russian grandfather, French mother, various European and Asian teachers) and all these people live or lived just as full lives as most native-speaker cubicle monkeys I know.

“Often foreigners don’t realize …”

My wife’s grandfather was from Ireland. English was his native language of course. (He studied Gaelic when it was illegal specifically because it was illegal. :). After living in the States for many, many decades he was recorded while reading at church. He was shocked and exclaimed that he sounded like he “just got off the boat”. The parishioners, however, loved for him to lector at mass because of his Irish accent and deep voice.

Regarding adult learners, perfecting a language is hard. Imo it’s better to start doing tons of listening from the beginning, and in parallel, study pronunciation/orthography, By that I mean learn how to correctly produce phonemes, words and sentences. There are several ways to do this, all of which involve listening to the items before producing them. But if you start doing anything else other than listening before you’ve completed this pronunciation task, you will be fossilizing errors that are unlikely to be 100% reversible in the future.

I’m not saying that if you don’t do this exercise in the beginning you can’t develop a good accent. I’m saying that you just won’t live up to your full potential pronunciation-wise.

So back to the OP - how do we perfect(improve) our pronunciation? By going through this very same exercise.

I agree. I took a Spanish class during my first year of university. The teacher (older Anglo-American lady) claimed that to roll our R’s all we had to do was imagine saying the word “kitty” very quickly and repeatedly. What nonsense! I only have the most basic understanding of sound production, but I don’t think that there is anything in common between the way this word is pronounced and the rolled R. I have now been learning a language that also has the rolled R (Russian). I have yet to master the sound, but i can reproduce it when I need to, and I think it’s all just from paying attention to raw input. I have forgotten most of my Spanish, but I remember almost figuring out that R by listening for long hours to the local Mexican radio station - I live in the city of “Raleigh,” so if you hear them say the name of the city often enough eventually you’ll figure out how to pronounce your Rs…

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I believe it’s possible as I have been told I sound like a native by other native speakers of Spanish.

What I did to achieve this took time, years.

I spent months trying to perfect pronunciation, learning where stress falls on words, making sure to over emphasize these areas of the words, recording and listening to myself over and over. Along side with this I just listened, day in day out.

It takes time, but I wouldn’t shoot for it, because it isn’t a quick process, and your overall goal should be fluency, not a perfect accent.

In my other languages that I speak well/fluent such as French and Dutch, natives know I’m not French/Dutch, but they don’t know my origins. You can lose this “Foreign accent” once you have done enough of the language. But shooting for a native accent, is close to impossible and very rarely achieved.