Learning Languages Like Children

Suggestion: no more visuals. No movies, no TV. Just listening as if you listening to a radio. Listen for comprehension and use transcripts to help your comprehension.

BTW you don’t have to believe that people can learn by listening and reading, but it is absolutely true, trust me. Maybe you are an exception that proves the rule.

I also suggest focusing on pure audio. While TV/movies is fun to watch, it might also give too many visual cues which is something you can’t rely on when reading or listening.

I really can understand Asad’s frustration. I have been learning French for over 30 years. I live in a bilingual city and I work with bilingual people. I hear French all the time, but I can not get anything close to the ‘correct’ pronunciation. Others that I practice speaking with get frustrated very quickly with me and usually give up helping me. When I’ve previously signed up for courses I always get asked ‘are you sure that you are trying for the right level? You sound like a beginner’.

The only thing that I can suggest to you Asad is to record your own voice. Use a program like Audacity. Find some audio files, listen to them and then record yourself speaking. Start by just trying to pronounce a word, then progress to sentences.

In addition to following Pamela’s advice, there may be a couple of other things you might want to try.

  1. Have you ever had your hearing tested? There’s a fascinating relationship between how we perceive sounds and our ability to produce them. (Pourquoi Mozart? and Nous sommes tous nés polyglottes by Dr A Tomatis). I once treated myself to some sessions at a Tomatis Centre in the UK. My then “therapist”, Patrick Dumas de la Roque, now works in Belgium, I believe. He was a very pleasant chap and if you can track him down, he may be able to give you some hints.
  2. When I did the TEFL course, I used to get my students to clap out the rhythm of the sentences they heard - with some hilarious results! So, get clapping!


Can you tell us more about the Tomatis sessions you had? For example, how were you tested? In what ways did you find them useful?

Hi Asad

Try any of these three American accent training programs - the first of which is the cheapest (12 dollars):

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the American Accent

American Accent Training - A Guide to Speaking and Pronouncing American English (2)

The American Accent Guide, Second Edition: A Complete and Comprehensive Course on the Pronunciation and Speaking Style of American English for Individuals of All Language Backgrounds / book and 8 CDs

Also, check out these posts on improving your pronunciation/how to sound more like a native:



Sound more like a native what? Atlantan? Alaskan? Newfoundlander? Sorry for the snark, I am allergic to accent reduction programs. I realise that Asad has problem being understood, but becoming intelligible and becoming “native-like” are two different things.

First, being just intelligible and interesting will score a lot of social points, and sounding like a 4th generation Northern Californian when everyone knows you were born and raised in Karachi will make some people think you have an unhealthy fixation on the Hollywood zeitgeist. Second, most of these accent reduction guides focus on discrete sounds using minimal pairs (bid, bead etc) which many studies have shown to be of limited actual effect compared to practicing suprasegmentals. So they satisfy people who have an urge to nail down sounds, but they don’t work.

Asad and Pamela,

In addition to avoiding visual material and checking your hearing, I would ask if you are actually “getting in to your English/French persona” when you are speaking. It is hard to define, but you have to forget who you are in your native tongue in order to really get comfortable speaking in the language you are learning.


I realise that becoming intelligible and becoming “native-like” are two different things, but it’s also the case that sounding “native-like” and sounding “just like a native” are two different things. And I don’t think it’s a bad idea to pick a particular accent and persona, as you said above (like Northern Californian, Texan, Australian, whatever) and try to emulate it - in fact, the students who do that, in my experience, tend to have the most native-sounding accents (confer http://tinyurl.com/yjlr84z, as above). I have conciously chosen a particular accent with both my German and my Spanish, and that has been a key factor in my effort to “sound like a native”. I think Steve once said that “sounding like a native” is something that you should always strive for while accepting that you may not ever get there.

I was not implying that Asad could achieve a “perfect accent” (whatever that is, since, as you said in a previous post, this is subjective) with these types of programs. It was simply a suggestion to use a different approach than he may have been using up to now. In my opinion, ANYTHING that helps to raise your awareness is better than nothing. These programs may not give you a “perfect accent” like they say they will, but they will certainly call your attention to certain aspects of the pronunciation and intonation of English (whatever variant you happen to be learning) you may not have noticed before.

All of this, of course, must be precluded by A LOT of natural listening to the language, because that is what’s going to have the greatest positive effect on your pronunciation.

Sorry for the tone of my post above. As a teacher I am constantly hearing people say their pronunciation needs work when they are perfectly intelligible, not only to me but to non-teachers. And they waste their time and money on pronunciation courses.

I have to specify that the idea of “getting into character” is not really to sound objectively like a native, but to feel comfortable in the language. I agree with Steve to the extent that you have to both try to “sound like a native” and “accept you will not get there”. To me this paradox can be phrased by saying “try to feel or act like a native” without getting freaked out when you are not understood and asking about where your tongue should be at a given point in time.

I may be wrong, but it still seems your position is that there is substantial value in sounding like a native in some objective sense. I have to disagree with you there.

@Cantotango: it would be a very long post, indeed. I think I’d better write something for the LingQ Posterous site - that way I won’t clutter up this thread. I’ll let you know once it’s done.


I bought American Accent Training book by Anne Cook a year ago. I still have this book at home. It comes with CDs. I went through the book. I did all the drills described in the book. But I am not sure how much progress I have made. Or I am not sure how many things I have internalized from the book. However, this is what I notice:

I still repeat myself while conversing. During a 5 minute conversation I repeat myself like three or four times which in my opinion is very bad. It means that I have serious issues with my pronunciation. I also feel embarrassed when native speakers try to avoid me conciously or subconciously.I can personally feel that they are not enjoying the conversation. I can feel this from their voice tone. So I don’t prolong my conversation unneccessarily.

That’s why I want to attack the language with more intensity and with more vigor.

I notice that Steve K advocates a lot of repetitive listening to the same content. To be honest, I have not done any repetitive listening. I always move on to the next thing.

I still improved my listening skills.

I wonder what is the reasoning behind repetitive listening? Something to do with correct pronunciation? I might give it a shot( though repeating things over and over again doesn’t suit my learning style, I feel tired easily).

I saw your videos in Spanish. You sound fluent to me. To be honest, I don’t talk like that at all in English. It seems to me you can explain a lot of things with ease. That is not the case with me.

How long have you been learning Spanish? How many hours have you put in? What type of content do you use for your learning? When did you start speaking?


Why do you want me to avoid visual content? No TV?, No Movies? Tom, from Antimoon.com suggests ESL learners to watch movies and sitcoms in English.

or an excerpt from above mentioned weblink:

“I had a Japanese friend who self-taught English, and when I first met her I thought she was Japanese-American: it was that flawless. She told me she’d watched a lot of TV and movies, and had changed the way she acted and used her facial muscles and shaped her mouth when making sounds.”

BTW, I am more concerned about intelligibility than sounding like an American.
I have seen some Americans speaking Urdu extremely well without losing their native accent. I can easily tell they are Americans but their intelligiblity is spot on. I would not force them to repeat themselves in the middle of the conversation.

However, I would love to have an American accent. In fact I would take anything over repeating myself many times during conversations.

I consider myself a free spirit. When I speak English I forget about my native language and culture.I mainly focus on imparting my thoughts. That’s always my priority.

My older brother who lives in the USA. He does not have an American accent yet no American forces him to repeat himself be it on the phone or in person. His accent does not sound too strong either. Sometimes I feel immersion is the only way to go.

My favorite actors are Edward Norton, Collin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland.I guess I should pick one of their accents and emulate it.

A lot of good tips there.I may implement some of them.

I’m impressed that you can read other people’s minds! The simple explanation for what you term your inability to speak English may simply stem from the way your mother tongue works. If it is Urdu, you are bound to produce sounds at a very fast rate, much faster than an English/American ear is used to - I have listened to Urdu speakers in English and sometimes they talk increadibly fast and staccato. Play any sentence, record your own voice and compare the speed and rhythm of utterance. That may be the answer you seek.

P.S. And stop comparing yourself to others!!!

Why no visuals? So you are more focused on the sounds of the actual language— not body language or cues from the scenery. Repetition is not super important at your level but it would be worth a try.

Repeating yourself 3-4 times in 5 minutes? HAHAHAH that’s nothing dude. Reading people’s unspoken “thoughts”. I am not ready to draw final conclusions, but, I’m sorry, it sounds like you are bit nervous and/or perfectionist. I am starting to think that you need to sign up for a conversation here at LingQ in order for this discussion to go somewhere.

P.P.S. “increadibly fast” , it’s incredible! As dooo (an experienced learner, tutor and teacher) says: repeating yourself “only” 3-4 times in 5 minutes?

@Sanne T

I have slowed down myself a lot . This is the most common tip given by native speakers in their online articles.

In the beginning I used to speak fast just to match the fluency of a native speaker.

I do not speak fast any longer.

It is time to go back to intensive listening suggested by ALG method coupled with repetitive listening suggested by Steve. I will do it daily. Hoping for a miracle to happen.

I will use audiobooks and podcasts for my listening activities. No more visuals.

I will be more observant during listening.

If I have more time, I will do shadowing as well. Speaking along with a narrator.

I feel like there is something wrong with my grammar. I feel like I can not produce correct grammar constructions/structures while speaking. I wonder if that is the main reason of repeating myself. I don’t know.

I used to speak with an American on the phone who happens to be an ESL teacher
from New York. I was teaching him Urdu.

He promised me to send a gift. I was expecting some kind of DVD or audio-learning program.

Guess what?

He sent me a grammar book on English language.

That day I felt so bad. I felt like I needed to start everything from scratch. I thought I would never chase grammar in my life.No more present tense, past tense, etc

Boy I was wrong.

If my grammar is so bad how come I read or listen so well?

One important thing: your grammar isn’t bad. OK, I’m not a native speaker of English, but can’t spot any particular mistakes in your written posts. Maybe you don’t speak like that, but hey, I don’t speak perfect either. Nobody is perfect. I’ve had the same feelings as you, but for German. While I understand most of what I hear/read, sometimes it feels as if I could never be able to string those kinds of sentences together. But I have private sessions each week and also write emails several times a week. Of course it helps.

If you want to speak more accurately, maybe you could slow down even more - make sure that you “see” what you want to say the second before you say it (almost like reading a script). I’m not saying this will be a good thing (because it ruins the spontaneity), but it’s one way of giving sound to your thoughts.

Passive understanding like reading/listening is different from active output. Repeating yourself is a natural thing, you collect words and expressions that you like and find useful.

This site has some ideas on how to become more fluent:

The author is (was?) learning Czech, but the same ideas apply to any language. The sample phrases on “Connectors starter pack” are useful.

And how do you know that the grammar book wasn’t meant as a treat? Perhaps the giver admired your grammar and thought you’d be interested in even more?? It’s all a matter of perspective. We all learn differently and if you are happy to stick to your “I’m not good enough” as a motivator, so be it.

Take a look at this video on YouTube: