Perfect Prononciation?

Hi everybody!
My question has a few components:

  • Who on this Web site has achieved ‘perfect pronunciation’ in a non-native language, starting after adolescence?
  • How? What techniques did you use?
  • How specific of an accent did you aim for: a town/region, a country, a particular subgroup, a ‘standard educated’ accent, or…? How did you decide?
  • Did you attempt to limit your exposure to other accents at any point(s) during this process?
    Thanks for all the posts!

Pronunciation quality depends on the listener. There is no such thing as perfect pronunciation.

Proponents of the ALG (Automatic Language Growth) program

claim that some students come out speaking like natives, that is, with no perceptible accent.

Whether this is true remains to be seen, which is why I myself would like to take part in the program one day and see.

It’s possible to get a good, near-native accent after adolescence. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly some people can acheive this. We don’t notice these “linguists” because they blend into society. I call them “agents”, but that’s just me…

SanneT, your written English doesn’t have an accent to me, you James Bond spy girl!

I believe that a lot of listening is crucial to achieve good pronunciation/accent, but at the same time, I’m sure that there are some that will never get anywhere close to native accent no matter how much they listen, surrounded by native speakers or not.

"We don’t notice these ‘linguists’ because they blend into society. I call them ‘agents’, " (Maitee)

This phrase is extremely wonderful, and some of those linguists might be real agents, I suppose. :slight_smile:

Watch this. Accent reduction

Listening alone will only get you so far. You need to read up on the subject in order to learn about what to listen to. There’s plenty of information about pronunciation and accents available on the Internet for many languages.

And native speakers (unless they are specialists in the area) are often of no help. Because of how our brain perceives phonemes, we are often completely oblivious to how we pronounce things, and how exactly our native phonemes are different from those of other languages.

I agree with astamoore. If you’re serious about acquiring a good accent, apart from lots and lots of listening, you need to read up on the subject. As he mentioned, you may not be able to perceive the sound differences because of how your ears have been “trained” by your own native language.

For example, the French “p” is pronounced more like the “p” in “sport” in English. I learned this from a book on French phonetics some years ago. If left to my own device, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this, or it might have taken me many many years before I noticed this. Another example is that when you pronounce the French “t” sound, the tip of your tongue should touch the back of your upper teeth. If you don’t know this bit of info, you may find that your pronunciation is slightly off without knowing why. And that you can’t produce the right sound even after many attempts. However once it’s pointed out to you how to make the correct pronunciation, and you’re ready to spend the time doing the practices, you are more likely to speak with a better accent.

I am not saying that you need to do a course in phonetics whenever you learn a language. What I am saying is that if a good accent is important to you, then invest some time studying the phonetics (in addition to a lot of listening of course). It’s well trodden path. A lot of research has been done already. There is no reason why shouldn’t take advantage of all this information.

I was most impressed that this person was able to get interviewed on TV to promote their service. I was less impressed with what she had to say.

I believe in listening, lots of listening. I knew a man, a recent immigrant from China, in his twenties. He had been in Canada for 3 years. His Canadian accent was flawless, native like. I thought he was born here.

His method? He listened to a limited amount of content over and over, thousands of times. I am quite sure that this works. But the question is, how many people have the patience to do it?

I think that listening to the language spoken slowly is effective. I think this helps the brain notice the differences. Thereafter we need to listen to language content spoken at normal speed, and often, and to limited content. But it should be content that is of interest and where we like the person’s voice.

My pronunciation in Mandarin is not bad. I listened to these Xiangsheng comic dialogues hundreds of times, even when I did not understand them. Because the intonation of these comic dialogues was in a way exaggerated, and I enjoyed them. I feel that really helped me improve my ability to get the tones right, if not all of the time, at least more often than not.

I do not believe in the benefits of too much instructions on where to place your tongue, etc. The odd bit might be helpful, but I think it is more a matter of listening, and of having an attitude that says, I am that person. I am Chinese, or Russian or French.

In the video, the host seemed to think that she could qualify as an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, despite her accent. This is simply not realistic. Both she and her guest felt that a non-native accent was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was a statement of who we are. I agree with that. However, we still need to want to achieve native like pronunciation even though we know the goal is likely not achievable.


I have heard French people with different degrees of aspiration in their "p"s. I do not think you can get the “p” wrong.

There is so much variation in the speech of native speakers, I doubt the value of this kind of prescriptive advice, or for that matter, the IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet. I am not saying that there are not a lot of people who like these things. I just think they are unnecessary and for many learners, a distraction.

Here is a video I just added to our LingQCentral Posterous account on this subject. I am not sure I did it all right but here goes.

All I can say is that a little bit of knowledge of French phonetics hasn’t done this learner any harm. For many years I didn’t speak any French and had forgotten much of what I learned. However, in those few rare occasions when I had to speak with my undoubtedly very broken French, I heard good comments about my accent.


The only rule is to have fun, and you do not even have to look like you are having fun either. Whatever works.


(Just watched your video on the subject, by the way)
The IPA is a professional tool, an instrument. You shouldn’t dismiss it on the account of it not being very useful, let alone a distraction, for many learners. Many learners (and, I’m sure, many poorly qualified educators) have no idea what the IPA is and how it’s used. Many have never heard of broad or narrow transcriptions, for example.

I was, alas, once guilty of sharing the “IPA is useless” point of view. How, I thought, can a few characters represent the thousands of sounds of all the languages in the world? As my understanding of the IPA (and phonetics in general) expanded, I realized my initial ignorance.

Any form of transcription, including respelling, implies a certain degree of familiarity with the language. Rudimentary knowledge in phonetics is always going to be beneficial to the learner.

A well designed, targeted accent-reduction course can do miracles in very little time. And, of course, motivation is the key.

I’m a native (Australian) English speaker and I’ve had a few comments on my accent in the past. Never a negative comment but more out of interest.

Perfect accent is a worthless ideal. Every language has a range of accents.

Aim high, but don’t worry if you don’t reach it. What you do manage to reach, with dedication, will be sufficient.

For what it’s worth, the closest example to a truly native-like command of a foreign language is the French guy Julien Gaudfroy, who can be seen here conversing in what I can only guess is flawless Mandarin:

I’ve found the IPA to be a very useful tool at the refinement stage; ie. when I’ve reached the stage where I’ve covering the little holes that still remain in my speech (of course there will always be gaps). Occasionally in French, I’ll be unsure how a particular word is pronounced - is it this way or that way or…? - and consulting a dictionary and seeing the IPA next to the word is very helpful. In terms of acquiring general pronunciation for the overall language, speaking comprehensible sentences and the like, there is of course no substitute for listening.

I agree about IPA being for the refinement stage.

You can read an IPA symbol, great, now what sound does it make? It’s best to get a good ear for the sounds first.

Chris, the Frenchman is very good. No doubt. But I have heard many others speak fluent native like Mandarin or Japanese. Da Shan the Canadian performer is but one that comes to mind, as well as friends I had in Japan and of course the fellow I mentioned earlier, the Chinese immigrant to Canada. Without wanting to belabour a point I doubt if the IPA was a major part of their path to native or near native pronunciation. That is not to deny that many people find it helpful or useful in many situations, even though I do not.

Okay, I posted this in another thread. As much as I hate to cross-post, I think it’s more relevant here.

In a nutshell:
Some time ago, I discovered the International Dialects of English Archive:

Founded by Paul Meier, the websites hosts audio recordings and transcriptions of specially prepared English texts read by people from all over the world. The recordings are submitted by volunteers or field experts. Generally, the recordings consist of the subject reading one of the specialized texts, followed by some unscripted speech in English and in the subject’s native language (if other than English).

An excellent resource for anyone interested in languages and pronunciation in particular.

About three years ago, I submitted my own sample, which can be found here:

Scroll down, and click Russia Nine on the left.