At Fluency Corp, we don’t just help clients who need to learn a second language. We also offer classes that focus specifically on accent reduction for clients who are already fluent in that language. Because we’ve worked with so many people who want to reduce a heavy accent, there’s a question we’ve heard a lot: Is it possible to totally get rid of your accent when speaking your second language? In this article, we want to address that question, plus some others that it brings up.
Why Do We Have Accents Anyway?
Even when you know how a word in your second language should be pronounced, you can still find it next to impossible to pronounce it that way yourself. So why is that? Well, it goes back to the fact that different languages don’t just have different words; they also have different sounds. For example, the language of Spanish has rolled r’s, but the language of English doesn’t. If you’re an English speaker who’s learning Spanish, you might have trouble reproducing that rolled r sound because your ear just isn’t used to it.
Is It Possible to Learn a Second Language and Not Have an Accent?
There’s good news and bad news here. First, the good news: Yes, it is. And now the bad news: You have to be really young to do so.
According to the book “Neuroscience. 2nd Edition,” when we’re very young babies, we can discriminate between all the sounds used in different languages. But by the time we’re 6 months old, we are paying more attention to the sounds in the language that the people around us speak. We can still learn a second language without an accent and with native proficiency until about age 8. But, after that, it gets a lot harder. We lose a lot of our aptitude in perceiving and reproducing sounds from other languages that don’t exist in our own language.
Why Do People Want to Lose Their Accents?
If you’ve never had to conduct your work or personal life exclusively in your second language, you might be wondering about this question. Accents are beautiful and intriguing, right? We don’t have to all sound the same, do we?
Those statements are both true. But they don’t represent the full truth about accents. An accent that native speakers have trouble understanding can hold you back from so much — including success at work and connection with others. I (Micah, Fluency Corp’s founder) can tell you that both from experiences at our company and in my personal life.
I remember well a call that Fluency Corp once got from a CEO.
“We have two new interns this year, and we would like to hire both of them when they are finished with their internships,” the CEO told me. “They are incredible. But we’re having a hard time understanding one of them. Her work is great, but at meetings, we’re not sure what she’s saying sometimes due to her strong accent.”
Rebecca Zhuo, who specializes in helping engineers speak English with an American accent, observed something similar as a project manager in Silicon Valley. She noticed that the non-native English speakers were lively and engaged on Slack, but hesitated to speak up in person. She found out that this was because they felt self-conscious about their accents.
But a strong accent doesn’t just hold you back at work. I used to live in Mexico. Now, keep in mind that I had already studied Spanish extensively. But, because of my accent, waiters in Mexico always still had to ask me to repeat my orders. That was embarrassing and frustrating. And it didn’t exactly help me feel at home in Mexico.
What Should People with Strong Accents Do?
If you’ve been worried about your strong accent, you might think it’s a no-win situation: You can’t get rid of your accent, but it’s holding you back from the connections and success that you want. But we can tell you from our work with clients that there’s a very happy medium to be reached.
Instead of trying to lose your accent, focus instead on improving your accent. At the end of the day, it isn’t really that important if someone thinks you were born in Cleveland instead of Kolkata when they hear you speak English. Instead, what really matters is that you can do the tasks that are important to you and communicate with the people who are important to you. And all of that is very possible while still having an accent.
What’s the Best Way to Reduce a Strong Accent?
The people I’ve encountered who come closest to sounding like a native in their second language all seem to have one thing in common: They learned their second language mostly by speaking it. The takeaway here is that if you want to reduce your accent, look for training classes that will give you lots of practice conversing with native speakers.
Accent Reduction Training from Fluency Corp
At Fluency Corp, we have lots of experience helping employees with heavy accents be understood better by native speakers. Not only that, we give them the confidence they need to speak up at meetings and give presentations. We emphasize relevant conversational practice that’s all too often missing in the classroom. Whether they’re taking classes in person or online with a live instructor, all Fluency Corp clients study with experienced, native-speaker instructors. These instructors take the time to get to know students and their specific challenges so that they can offer valuable, personalized feedback.
Whether you want to improve your own accent or help an employee with a heavy accent, set up a free consultation with Fluency Corp by contacting us at email@example.com or (800) 401-3159.
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