There’s nothing more frustrating than not being understood.
I lived in South Korea for four years. During that time, I took Korean lessons at the local university and practiced my speaking skills every day.
And no matter how hard I tried to master the Korean language, there were always people who couldn’t understand me because of my accent.
Even if your pronunciation is almost perfect, some people will have a problem understanding you because of your accent.
It’s not because you’re speaking poorly, but because they’re simply not expecting you to have an accent, so it confuses them.
For this reason, many English language learners try to lose their foreign accent and talk like a first-language English speaker.
Continue reading to learn how you can do this too.
Why Mastering Your English Accent Is Important
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that everyone has an accent, even English speakers.
Accents are great.
They add personality to English, and without them, conversations would be boring. However, not all accents are easy for the average English speaker to understand, which is why it’s a good idea to learn how to speak like a native English speaker, or at least like an advanced learner of English.
Mastering English pronunciation and intonation is the first step towards speaking English without a foreign accent.
Just remember that speaking like a native isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s going to take a lot of time and practice. But if you work hard and continue to improve your speaking, you’ll begin to notice that people have an easier time understanding your English in conversations!
Which English Speaker Do You Want to Sound Like?
Native English speakers have different accents depending on where they’re from. You need to choose the type of accent that you want to learn and stick to it. Otherwise, you run the risk of mixing up two or more English accents and sounding even more confusing.
The three most common accents that you’ll come across in ESL material are American (AmE), British (UK) and Australian (AUS) accents. Click the links below to see an example of each accent.
As you can see, all three accents are different from each other, which is why you want to stick with mastering only one accent at a time.
You can find more authentic listening practice at FluentU.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
How to Speak English Without an Accent and Sound Like a Native
While not impossible, learning how to speak English like a native will take a lot of time and practice—especially for adults. For whatever reason, studies show that children master pronunciation and learn second languages easier than adults. So, if your goal is to teach your child how to speak English without an accent, you should get them practicing as early as possible.
If you want to learn how to speak English without an accent, here are some resources to help you get started.
1. Listen to Your Target Accent
Mastering a native English accent requires you to listen to native speakers and practice speaking with their intonation and pronunciation.
For best results, make sure to actually practice using the accent while listening to podcasts and watching television shows. The best way to do this is to pause and repeat what speakers are saying over and over again. You can also record yourself and listen to how you speak, then compare it to the accents you’re listening to.
If you don’t have any English speakers you can speak with, try listening to podcasts for practice.
- Podcasts for English Language Learners (AmE and UK): In this post, we list some of our favorite British and American English podcasts.
- OzPodcasts (AUS): This directory of Australian podcasts covers a wide range of topics led by authentic Australian English speakers.
Another great way to improve your accent is by watching television shows.
- British and American TV Shows for Learning English (AmE and UK): Both American and British TV is popular worldwide, so you won’t have any problems finding television shows from these two countries. In this post, you can find some of the best shows to learn English, as well as places to watch them online.
- “The Katering Show” (AUS): For a good Australian TV show, take a look at this one. It’s a comedy about two food lovers with very different personalities who find themselves in a number of unusual situations. Episodes can be watched online by visiting the website and scrolling halfway down the page.
2. Practice Pronunciation with YouTube
Good pronunciation is important for talking like a native speaker. Unfortunately, many students skip past textbook pronunciation exercises for other activities, like grammar and vocabulary.
The good news is that practicing pronunciation doesn’t have to be as boring as listen-and-repeat exercises found in textbooks. Here are four YouTube channels that make English pronunciation fun and engaging:
- FluentU English: With real-life examples taken from Hollywood hits, British TV series and many other authentic sources, you can practice your chosen English accent in an entertaining way. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can keep up with all the latest, hippest English words.
- Speak English with Vanessa (AmE): A great channel with pronunciation lessons on how to speak like an American.
- BBC Learning English’s (UK): More than 100 videos dedicated to pronunciation and how to speak in a standard British accent.
- Aussie English (AUS): Learn a little about Australia and Australian culture while watching more than 40 videos teaching you how to talk like an Australian.
3. Become Aware of Intonation
Everyone knows that good pronunciation is important for learning how to speak English like a native, but many students make the mistake of focusing only on their pronunciation and ignoring intonation completely.
Intonation is the tone you speak in and the stress you put on different parts of a word. English speakers have different intonations depending on where they’re from. For example, when saying “garage,” an American English speaker will say “ga-RAGE,” whereas a South African English speaker says “GAR-age.”
Using the wrong intonation doesn’t only confuse native English speakers, it can also change the meaning of your sentence completely. Also, people will know you’re not a first-language English speaker from incorrect intonation much easier than they will if you mispronounce a word or two.
Take a look at this video to see an example of what it sounds like to have good pronunciation and incorrect intonation. While the gentleman in the video clip thinks he doesn’t have an accent, his intonation immediately gives him away as an English language learner. Granted, he speaks just fine and is understood just as easily as a native speaker, but he does have an accent.
4. Practice to Improve Intonation
You can practice your intonation in the same way you improve your pronunciation: by listening to native speakers and repeating what they say while trying to sound like them.
Except with intonation, you’re not focusing on how they’re saying vowels and consonants, but rather how they’re saying entire words—whether they’re being louder at the beginning or the end of the word or if their voice sounds higher or lower at the end of a sentence.
Some good YouTube channels to help you practice your intonation include:
- Jill Diamond (AmE): When it comes to mastering spoken English, Jill Diamond’s videos can have anyone talking like an American. Along with pronunciation tips and talking about different accents, Jill also covers intonation in videos like “Intonation Patterns of American English” and “American English Intonation: That Was so Funny!“
- English Pronunciation Roadmap (UK): The English Pronunciation Roadmap is filled with helpful videos for English language learners trying to speak British English. Two of their most helpful intonation videos are “Rising and Falling Intonation” and “Word Stress Rules.“
- ABC Education’s Study English Series (AUS): ABC Education is loaded with resources to help English language learners discover more about English, Australian English and life in Australia. This playlist is especially helpful for learning how to understand Australian accents and speak like an Australian, including a 10-minute episode focusing on Australian intonation.
Remember, the only way you’re going to speak English without an accent is by practicing. Try speaking in English every chance you can get. Talk to your friends, chat with English speakers online and talk to yourself if you have to—just make sure that you’re always speaking English.
The more you listen to native speakers talk and imitate their pronunciation and intonation, the easier it’ll be for you to speak English like a native.
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