How to Learn A Second Language Without an Accent


Learning a second language is sometimes difficult because you have to learn new pronunciations based on the language’s phonetic rules, basically scrapping all knowledge of your native tongue. Learning to speak a non-native language without an accent is even more difficult because, depending on the region, a language has distinctive dialects.

To learn to speak a second language without an accent a student needs to pay close attention to the basic sounds and how they are used. The sounds are found in the alphabet: spend time listening to native speakers, music of the culture, movies and television, and interactive conversations.

Read on to find how you can learn to speak a second language without carrying over an accent for more fluent communication. You can also find helpful ways to study for a better understanding of the language and methods to blend in with native speakers.

Study the Rules of The Language

By continually studying the target language’s rules, you’re learning to develop its accent when practice-speaking it through unconscious memorization. Analyzing the language’s rules and applying them when speaking can help you lose your native accent, and native speakers will understand you more when communicating.

One of the best ways I have found to start off a language and reach an intermediate level is to find a good language learning program that has done a lot of the beginning legwork for you. Here is the program that I would recommend for anyone wanting to learn a language without an accent.

Follow one of these links for a free trial in… Spanish, Japanese, French, or German.

Minimal Pairs

Learning the difference between minimal pairs in a second language is the key to more fluent communication with native speakers.

Minimal pairs are words that are spelled similarly but have one phonemic difference that defines them as different words.

Studying minimal pairs can help eliminate your accent because they guide you to understand the pronunciation better.

For example, in English, we have words like royal and loyal that sound mostly the same besides the first letters. This example of minimal pairs might be hard to distinguish because they rhyme, and some foreign accents tend to mix up the r and l sounds. 

An example of non-rhyming minimal pairs in English is “let” and “lit”; these might be hard to distinguish because the letters e and i have only slightly different pronunciations.

Practicing saying minimal pairs can help you to differentiate words that sound alike and help you to pronounce words properly using the target language’s accent.

Tone

The tone of some words in different languages is crucial because some words are spelled the same but said in various ways to indicate a different meaning. In some languages, like Mandarin Chinese, it might be hard to learn different tones because they require a set of sounds that foreigners have never spoken before, but studying them is vital to learn the proper accent.

For example, in Mandarin Chinese pinyin, the word ma can have different meanings depending on the tone. Mā uses the first tone, where your voice is flat but high-pitched. This tone indicates the word means mother. However, mǎ uses the third tone, where your voice’s pitch goes lower and then rises. This tone symbolizes that the word means horse.

Sources: Babbel, Lingholic, Notendur, Fluentu

Listen to The Language

Listening to how the target language is ordinarily spoken can help you understand fluidity and lose your native accent. You can do this by surrounding yourself with native speakers or chatting with them online, watching their media, and listening to their music. You can also listen to yourself speaking the language so you can adjust any mistakes in the pronunciations.

Repetition is helpful when it comes to language learning, so focusing on material created for children is useful, and a wise investment in your language learning toolkit.

For example, starting with children’s music makes sense because the vocabulary is simple, the tunes are catchy, and verses are often repeated; these features make it easier for language learners. Amazon has many options, such as Spanish for Kids: A Bailar! and Cha Cha Cha (French Learning)

Watch Native Speakers’ Medias

Watching native speakers’ media like television shows, movies, and news channels can help you better understand their culture and give you more reference for how they move their mouths and pronounce words so you can get rid of your accent. You can also turn the subtitles on to connect spoken words to written words for helpful practice when learning a second language.

Listen to Native Speakers’ Music

Listening to native speakers’ music can help you understand fluidity in the language by observing how they roll their words together; you can learn to speak more naturally than forced. Singing the lyrics can also help you develop the target language’s accent by teaching you to use the correct tone for certain words because different tones indicate different word meanings.

Interact with Native Speakers

Interacting with native speakers is a great way to practice speaking a second language by asking for advice on words you find hard to pronounce or asking how well your accent makes you blend in with the locals. You can interact with native speakers in person by traveling, meeting up with, or video chatting with them online.

If you’re able to travel to a country whose people speak the language you’re learning, it is a great way to practice because you’re forced to converse, read the language, and interact with others for improvement on your accent. However, it is easier to find someone in your area knowledgeable of the language you’re learning, or video chat a native for help.

Record Your Voice

Recording your voice is a great practice when learning a second language if you’re having trouble getting the accent down. You can listen back to your words so you know what to adjust, whether it be your:

  • Accent
  • Tone
  • Grammar
  • Overall fluidity of the sentence

You can also check your progress as you are further along to see how fluent you’ve become.

Sources: Fluency CORP, Fluentu

Mimic Native Speakers’ Communication Skills

Mimicking native speakers’ communication skills like body language can help you blend in better when speaking with them and teach you important mouth articulation to lose your non-native accent. Foreign languages are spoken with different parts of the mouth, which is the key to forming and pronouncing words right with the proper accent.

Mouth Articulation

Mouth articulation when learning a second language is essential because different languages use various parts of the mouth when speaking and forming words. The way you move your mouth when you speak can affect your accent: if you speak from the back of your mouth, your accent will be blunter. If you speak from the front of your mouth, your accent will be softer.

Body Language

Body language can be used when speaking different languages to emphasize certain words, making different parts of the sentence seem more important than others. This communication skill can help you develop an accent because usually raising your voice pitch and exaggerating the pronunciation of words go hand-in-hand with body language.

Source: Babbel, Fluentu

Understand Emotions in The Language

Understanding emotions in the language you’re learning can help you develop its accent because using emotions when speaking makes for different pitches and pronunciations of words. Paying attention to the expressions and nuances that native speakers use when speaking their language helps when learning their accent.

Expressions

Though there are some similarities in expressions across cultures, further research has also proven that different cultures have expressions or phrases that outsider cultures might not understand because of language barriers. Learning these expressions can help you improve your accent because you can group words that seemingly make no sense in pronunciation and grouping, but native speakers will think you blend right in.

An example of an expression that English natives use that foreigners might not understand is, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” This term is used when it’s raining hard outside, but animals aren’t falling from the sky. Another English example of an expression is, “Costing an arm and a leg.” This term is used when something is too expensive, but you aren’t paying in limbs.

Nuances

Nuances in different languages are subjective meanings behind the translations of certain words and subtle differences in pronunciations based on emotion. Direct translations often do not make much sense because foreign words have in-depth meanings that can’t be exactly portrayed.

Understanding nuances in the target language is vital to developing their accent. Learning the subtle differences in how native speakers pronounce some words based on emotion and expression can help you speak with more fluidity.

Source: The Strand, Pimsleur

The Final Talking Point on How to Learn A Second Language Without an Accent

It might be hard to scrap your accent from your native language since you’ve been speaking it for so long, but there are ways to learn to unlearn it. Lots of practice, studying the language’s rules, and analyzing native speakers to pick up on factors that help with learning accents are great methods to learn to speak a second language without an accent.

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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