arrow-down arrow-to-left arrow-to-right arrow-up bc-left check delete download facebook google-plus home map menu print search smiling three-lines top-left twitter youtube
February 2018

Tips for Speaking Like a Native Speaker

How to work on your accent when learning a foreign language

One of the hardest parts of learning a foreign language is developing a good accent. While pronunciation is often taught in language schools, developing a native-sounding accent is rarely on the syllabus. If you really want to speak like a local and be quickly understood by all, you’ll want to work on that accent. Here are some tips for developing a good speaking accent when learning a foreign language.

Focus on the small stuff

When you first begin learning a foreign language, you’ll want to avoid regional accents and dialects. Learn the standard form of the language you’re studying, then add in all the other stuff as you become more proficient.

The key to speaking well lies in the small stuff, the individual syllables that form words. Foreign speakers often have accents because they do not work on their speaking at such a granular level. Really focusing in on each syllable and practicing the sounds of the vowels and consonants individually can help develop a solid accent.

One good exercise is to recite the alphabet (for those languages that have alphabets), much like children do in school. These exercises are often breezed through in language courses for adults. Additionally, you can break down words by their syllables and really dive deep into enunciating (and cherishing) each individual sound.

Study with native speakers only

While it is true you can learn from a fluent non-native speaker, it’s best to try and learn directly from native speakers when working on a native-sounding accent. This is because, as learners, we often pick up sounds and mannerisms subconsciously, and non-native speakers may often still retain some of their mother-tongue speech patterns, often without them realising it.

Native speakers will speak with the mannerisms you need to study if you wish to speak like a local. Of course, you have to be careful to avoid native speakers who use dialect or have deep regional accents, unless you want to pick those up too. They do, in fact, add to the flavor of your speech.

Take up acting

As actors train to use accents not their own, so too can language learners study accents to advance their speaking ability. Go online and watch videos of native speakers and observe how they speak. Imitate them when you speak the language. Over time, the mannerisms will absorb into your speaking style too. These subtle changes can make a big difference if you wish to sound more like a local speaker.

When imitating native speakers, listen to how they breathe, how long they hold certain words, and how they pause between sentences. Developing this rhythm, this sensitivity to the musicality of the language, is often the turning point for sounding like a local.

Record yourself

One of the best exercises for improving your speaking is by recording yourself. We often don’t hear our flaws, and sometimes we can’t even hear if we have a foreigner’s accent at all. By recording yourself and analysing your speech honestly, you can pinpoint your weak points and work on them.

It may be painful to listen to yourself speak, but this is really the best way to hear what others hear. Save some of your recordings and go over the ones from the past; you’ll likely discover that, as you progress over time, your accent will have improved remarkably.

Do you speak like a foreigner in your target language? What are your tips for improving your speech? Let us know your experiences and tips on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language and culture from around the world!