Keith's Voice, A keen sense of awareness

What do you think about Keith’s method to improve our accent.
“Listen to just one sentence in the Target language. Listen to it 25 times at least. Concentrate on speed, intonation and rhythm. Record yourself and listen to this recording. Compare both and try to find out how yours differs from the original one. If you follow this training for a while, it won’t take long before people mistake you for a native speaker”.
I would like to have your point of view and what your experience is in this field.

I can imagine that this method works. If you really follow it for some months your accent would decrease considerably.

My instinct says that this may not work. Focusing intensely on discrete points in language generally doesn’t. Subtle aspects of a subject are learned through the backdoor or the sidedoor, not the frontdoor. To actually carry it out would be a challenge too.

I met a guy in Toronto, a 25 year old immigrant from China. He had a flawless accent in English. He just listened to the some content over 1000 times. That takes will power!

I have found that listening repeatedly to content that we like, where we like the voice, the tone, the content, will gradually influence our brains. In Russian, when I started I had lots of trouble pronouncing all those Russian words with ten consonants in a row. I just kept listening. Now, after 3 yeas, I have no trouble.

I think it is a good idea to start with doing a lot of deliberate and repetitive listening, to say 10 or 15 minutes of content, without recording yourself. Only after an extended period would I try to record myself and compare.

For people who have trouble with certain aspects, like consonants clusters for Chinese people, or “v” and “w” etc. I would listen repetitively to some of the content you will find in the Pronunciation category in our store.

I would not do too much comparing of myself until I am good. I think it may just reinforce bad habits or discourage. Just assume you are doing it OK, is my motto.

But I am sure it worked for Keith. To some extent people have to find their own paths.

Good pronunciation is very much a question of attitude towards the foreign culture, and it’s impeded by fear.

Fear of sounding ‘too foreign’, of leaving the comfortable boundaries of the sounds of your native language.

In my opinion, exaggeration is the key to good pronunciation. EXAGGERATE everything you do in the language, based on what you see and hear native speakers doing. Try to look (that is, move your mouth and face) and sound like them, imagine you are them.

Steve actually talks about this subject in his interview on Radio Canada

Watch this Chinese cop and the way he imitates a New York accent by exaggerating (and ends up sounding pretty good)

And check out my blog post on precisely this subject

I have a story for you guys.
When I went to Beijing with a Chinese tour, I became in love with everything that was Beijing. The Beijing accent, the people, the weather, everything felt so harmonious! And our tour guide, kept talking with a beijing accent 5 days back to back for hours about Beijing. I loved his accent, it felt so right, so cool, so captivating.
And afterwards when I returned home from my trip to China, I started to notice that I pronounce a lot of stuff in Mandarin with a different intonation, rhythm and style. But I didn’t really pay attention to it until one day, I talked to a Chinese woman in Mandarin. She, with a surprising look, asked me how my Mandarin sounded Beijing-ish. This is strange, I thought to myself. How can I sound Beijing-ish, when I don’t even remember how the accent sounds! And eventually I started to get the same comment more and more from other Chinese people. And then I started to listen to more audio content and films spoken in “Beijing-ish” Mandarin, and I found out that those awkward way of talking and pronouncing stuff was very similar to what I was hearing!! The biggest difference was that I back then couldn’t pronounce the beijing r sound. So I thought to myself, when I already talk Beijing-ish Mandarin, we might as well add the extra r and maybe even polish the whole accent. So I started to listen extensively to Mandarin content spoken with a Beijing accent. And I’ve been doing this for somewhat 3 months, and I ended up talking it indistinguishable from a native speaker of Mandarin! I don’t talk wholly like someone from Beijing, because I don’t use the beijing r sound everywhere where possible. Only standard phrases, and only in words that make the whole flow of the language smoother.

So, what I want to emphasize on is that LOVING the accent is very very important. If possible go to the place where this accent is spoken and listen to it every day as if you’re listening to a Beethoven symphony that leaves you with an indelible impression. And still will power and lots of motivation to achieve your goal is important too. I hope you guys will learn to talk with a foreign accent, just as joyful as I did! Much luck wished with your studies!!

Sorry to revive a really old post, but I just wanted to add a comment. Serge’s post didn’t get the attention it deserved either.

In my experience, listening to the same thing over and over limits your exposure to variation. Sounds are never exactly fixed and there is always a certain degree of variation that is allowed – if you’re going to sound native, you’ll have to develop an instinct for exactly where a sound is no longer native-sounding and how far you can bend it and still sound native-like. I personally prefer exposure to a wide variety of constantly changing material (as in real life) over repeated exposure to fewer things.

Right. But one can of course listen to the same thing over and over to concentrate on really hearing every nuance, and listen to other things as well.

There’s certain sounds that I really need to concentrate on, and these can fly past pretty quickly when listening to podcasts /audio books.

I’ve started to find examples of single words or phrases that use these problem sounds, and listen 100s of times to sound clips that last just a few seconds. Maybe I’ll report back if I make any progress in the eyes (ears?) of natives : )

To each his own,

I have found that repeated listening to a the same or similar content spoken by people, who have the pronunciation and intonation I want to imitate, is very effective. I used this technique for Chinese. Jerry Dai did the same (to extreme) with English. Dai listened a thousand times to one D, or so he claims. I listened tens of times to the same pair of comedians in Chinese. I believe it helps to focus on one model, if we like that model, if we like the subject matter, and, especially if we like the voice.

I think that when we want to focus on specific sounds it is helpful to isolate them, as words, and then as part of phrases, and then record oneself and compare to the native speaker. You can do this at LingQ. By listening to a phrase, and then recording yourself. Eventually you can move to sentences and even short paragraphs.

Nice to hear from you again Alexandre…note to forum, Alexandre is an accomplished polyglot, and was a part of our polyglot meet up in Toronto which will form part of the program about polyglots this coming Saturday evening on Global TV here in Canada, at 7 pm.

Just to clarify my post, I was writing against listening to the same short clip over and over (as Dai is purported to have done and which would be extremely tedious), but NOT against listening repeatedly to a longer recording that would contain a lot of variety.

Thank you, Steve. The show will actually be broadcast on May 5th, if I’m not mistaken.

Oh, right Alexandre, I forgot. May 5th. Thanks.

So Alexandre, do you live in Toronto, or did you fly here just for the interview like Steve?

Hi Edwin – I live in Winnipeg. I was flown in only for that event. I loved the opportunity and quite enjoyed Toronto too, I must say!

EDIT: I’m originally from Québec, yes, but moved to Winnipeg in my 20’s.

Ic, I had the impression in the past that you live somewhere in Quebec.

Back to the topic, I believe Jerry’s suggestion on listening (and repeating) the same phrase thousands of times is more for accent reduction than comprehension.

accent reduction is purely an output exercise. Musicians will practice the same few stanzas over and over to get everything correct, the rhythm, intonation, pitch, every little nuance. Accent reduction is the same way.