For those language learners who are a tad bit more experienced, the goal to constantly improve their skills can manifest itself in a having perfect accent. However, our brains aren’t the same as they were ten or fifteen years ago, and it becomes harder and harder to be flexible in terms of new knowledge. So, what should you do to train your speech as an adult? 

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Key Takeaways:

  • Accents are unique features of speech that indicate our backgrounds and origins. They develop due to exposure to specific sounds and patterns in our native language from a young age, making it challenging for adults to modify or adopt a new accent.
  • Adult learners face numerous challenges in reducing their accent, including ingrained speech habits, lack of consistent practice, and psychological barriers, such as fear of judgment or lack of confidence.
  • To refine and adapt speech patterns, popular methods include speech therapy, specialized accent reduction courses, technology-based solutions like software and apps, and immersion in environments where the target language is predominantly spoken.

It certainly sounds cheesy, but languages are like colors in a big-world painting. Each one has its own sound and style, making our world exciting and diverse. One interesting part of a language is its accent. Think of how people from the UK sound different from those in the US, even if they both speak English. Or how someone from northern and southern Spain might have a different way of saying the same words. Every time we hear an accent, it’s like listening to a small piece of a person’s life story. They make languages fun and hard to learn at the same time. No matter how pretty they may sound, they can significantly influence your speech and make it harder for people to understand you. So, one of the Reddit users asked for help when it comes to having an accent as an adult.

Why Do People Even Have Accents?

Accents are unique features of our speech that often tell a story about our backgrounds and origins. They’re deeply tied to our cultural identity and play a vital role in the way we communicate and connect with others. Over time, our accent becomes a significant part of who we are, reflecting our history, experiences, and roots. There’s a common belief that, as adults, it’s nearly impossible to completely shed our native accent, especially if we try to adopt a new one. This idea is grounded in the understanding that our ability to pick up and adapt to languages decreases as we age. Yet, the topic is not black and white, and there’s much more to explore and understand about the adaptability of our vocal cords and our brain’s linguistic capacities as we grow older.

Accents are fascinating markers of our cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They form because of the sounds and patterns we’re exposed to in our native languages from a young age. According to the Linguistic Society of America, as babies, we’re equipped to produce and hear all human language sounds. However, as we grow, we begin to focus on the sounds crucial to our native language and overlook the rest. For instance, German speakers might pronounce the beginning sounds of English words like “wish” and “this” as “v” and “z” because those exact sounds don’t exist in German. 

Another interesting point is how some languages have sounds or patterns that others don’t. English, for example, has words like “strengths” with multiple consonants clustered together. In contrast, Japanese syllables typically consist of one consonant followed by a vowel. This makes it challenging for Japanese speakers to pronounce such English clusters without adding extra vowels in between. In essence, the sounds and structures we’ve grown up with shape how we speak other languages, giving us our unique accents.

Common Challenges Faced by People Trying to Reduce an Accent

Reducing or eliminating an accent as an adult learner comes with its unique set of challenges. Firstly, one of the most significant challenges is overcoming ingrained speech habits. From childhood, our brains are wired to speak in certain ways, with specific rhythms, intonations, and sounds. These patterns become deeply rooted as we grow older, making them harder to change as adults. It’s similar to how it might be challenging to change our handwriting style after years of writing in a particular way.

“It’s rare, but adult learners can do this. It seems to require lots of targeted practice and a systematic approach, plus prioritizing getting the accent perfect. It’s also not clear whether most people could accomplish this given the right training, or whether only certain people can.”

Another obstacle is the lack of consistent practice. Just like learning a musical instrument or a new sport, perfecting an accent requires regular and sustained practice. However, many adult learners have busy lives filled with work, family, and other responsibilities. This can make it hard to find the time and dedication needed to practice speaking consistently, especially in an environment where they can receive feedback.

Moreover, psychological barriers can also play a significant role. Many adults feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their accents, leading to a lack of confidence when speaking. This fear of judgment can hinder their progress, as they might avoid situations where they have to speak a new language. They might worry about making mistakes or not being understood, which can further diminish their motivation to practice.

One of the Redditors, interestingly enough, shared their confusion about people trying to lose an accent in the first place.

“It’s probably not possible to lose it completely but you can get close. Also, I don’t understand why it would even be desirable. You want comfortable intelligibility. Once you hit this goal, your time is probably better spent elsewhere unless you like the novelty.”

There is some truth in this comment since the main point of learning a language is to simply be understood by others. However, we can’t know for sure where somebody’s motivation lies and it’s better not to judge.

Methods and Techniques to Reduce Accent and Train Your Speech

Improving and adapting one’s speech patterns is a goal for many, and luckily, various popular techniques can help individuals achieve this. One of the users under the original thread shared a sentiment that the first step in mastering pronunciation should be the goal itself. Why do you want a “clearer” accent? If the main idea is to be able to communicate with others, there’s no need to be an obsessed eager-beaver about it.

“Is it possible? Yes, for some hard-working adults with good ears and a strong phonological focus on one or another L2. But it makes more sense to set a goal of very easily understandable speech — in particular on the phone or through a mike — not “passing as” or “being mistaken for” a native speaker. By all means, keep trying to improve pronunciation and prosody. But set the bar at clear intelligibility over audio, to be as cooperative as possible with your interlocutor, not to fool them.”

Well, if you want to improve your pronunciation anyway, there are some trustworthy and proven techniques to try out. Let’s delve into some of these methods and understand how they assist in refining speech.

Is It Possible to Lose an Accent Being a Grown-Up Language Learner? Redditors Weigh In

Speech therapy is a well-recognized method where trained professionals, called speech therapists or pathologists, work with individuals to improve their speech clarity, rhythm, and pronunciation. Through exercises and personalized strategies, they help in addressing specific issues and provide feedback for improvement. It’s important for a person to be fully immersed in the process and train even outside classes. According to Kristin Van Engen, who is an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, it’s necessary for people to stimulate their brain activity. Van Engen’s studies indicate that individuals with a broader vocabulary and a stronger working memory capacity — which refers to the ability to retain information despite distractions — find it easier to comprehend accented speech.

Another option to improve your accent is to visit courses. Specialized language classes, often termed as ‘accent reduction’ or ‘pronunciation’ classes, are designed to focus specifically on the sounds and rhythms of a language, as one of the Reddit users pointed out in a passive-aggressive fashion. 

“Yes. That’s what accent reduction courses are for. Look it up and read reviews.”

Unlike regular language classes that teach vocabulary and grammar, these specialized courses delve deep into the nuances of pronunciation, helping learners sound more like native speakers.

In our tech-savvy age, there are also various accent reduction software and apps available. These digital tools often include audio-visual aids, interactive exercises, and voice-recognition features to guide learners in real time. 

“You have to really pay close attention to the speech patterns. Where people pause, what syllables they use to think. The shape their mouths make.”

By comparing one’s pronunciation to that of native speakers, these software solutions provide immediate feedback, allowing users to adjust and practice until they master the correct sounds.

Lastly, immersion is a natural and effective technique. By living in an environment where the target language is spoken daily, individuals are constantly exposed to native pronunciation and intonation. This constant exposure forces learners to adapt their speech patterns quickly. Moreover, daily interactions in the language help in building confidence and offer numerous opportunities to practice and refine one’s accent.

In essence, adapting speech patterns is a journey, and choosing the right technique, or a combination of them, can pave the way for effective learning and improvement.

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