CAN I LOSE MY ACCENT COMPLETELY?

Have you been wondering “Can I get rid of my accent completely?”

Accents are a big part of who we are. Everyone in the world has an accent. Within English there are many, many different types of accent. 

I’m often asked by non-native speakers, is it possible to lose my international accent altogether when I speak English? 

In this article I’ll look at whether losing a first language accent is possible, why people want to, what’s required to do so and what level of change most people can expect to achieve.   

Is it possible to lose your accent? For most people who are not native speakers or English, reducing a foreign accent is easily achievable. Losing a foreign accent completely requires a very high level of skill and high engagement in training. A person’s ability to successfully change their accent depends on their level of skill, commitment to practice and quality of training materials. 

 

Is It Possible To Lose Your Accent Completely?

When we learn to speak, according to the Linguistic Society of America most people have a defined set of sounds by the time they reach puberty (so around 11 – 12 years of age) and after that these sounds and movements generally become locked in. 

So, research has shown that for people under the age of around 11 – 12 years of age, learning a new language, and speaking it without a foreign accent is quite easy and often happens naturally. This is because children easily pick up the sounds and stress patterns of a new language. It’s easier for children to move their muscles in new ways to make speech sounds and their brain and muscles are not as rigid as older people. 

But how about for people older than 11? Like you! 

For most people it is possible, but as we get older it becomes more difficult. If you’re an adult, and speaking English as a non-native speaker, accent free English can be very difficult to achieve. We need to teach our ears to hear the different speech patterns and then training our mouths to make the new sounds.  

If i was to take up surfing now, it would be much harder to become competent than if I started when I was a 6 year old. I’d LOVE to be a good surfer right now, but the reality is if I began tomorrow I’d probably need to settle for becoming competent rather than an expert …. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe but I’m over 30 years old ; )  

It’s more challenging the older we are because we are changing habits that have been in place for many years – since you started speaking English. And also, we are changing movements that for most people are automatic. For most people, the way they move their mouths when   

An accent is made by the way we move our mouth when we make certain speech sounds and the way we make stresses and rhythms. 

It is possible though, with expert training – both auditory and speaking training – and loads of regular practise, accent free speech, or slightly accented speech can be achieved. The best results come from dedicated practice through an English pronunciation course. 

I must admit, I do sometimes feel a bit spoilt as a Native English speaker. I’m always impressed by anyone who has learned a second language and in awe of people who speak three or more languages. As you’re reading this article give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve already learned English as a second language and that’s amazing. As people turn their attention to accents and changing or losing theirs, it’s important to understand what is possible. 

The list below explains the different objectives people might have based on their level of English pronunciation and what they can realistically achieve in terms of accent change. You will see I use the term “Strong accent”. In this context, a strong accent is one that makes it difficult for native English speakers to understand you.

 

Level of pronunciation 

Very strongly accented speech

Moderately accented speech. 

Slightly accented speech 

Explanation of pronunciation

Typical of someone who learned English at school but did not speak English regularly. Most likely learned English from another non-native English speaker.  

Your English is at a good level but sometimes your pronunciation is unclear to listeners. 

You have a good ear for language or you have been speaking English for a long time. 

Common motivators for improving English Pronunciation skills. 

People at this level engage in training because they need clear English for job interviews and employment in an English speaking country. 

People at this level engage in training to improve their pronunciation to communicate more effectively at work. 

They need clearer English to gain a promotion, move into management, give better presentations and just be more effective.  

Most people at this level who engage in training want to reduce their accent because they’ve been living in an English speaking country for a long time and they feel like locals and want to sound more local too. 

Or they are perfectionists! They want to improve their English as much as possible and to them this means sounding as much like a native English speaker as possible.  

Common End Goal

Most people at this level want to achieve  clear English. 

Losing their accent is not their end goal. 

Their accent is an important part of their identity and they just want to communicate clearly in English. 

Most people at this level want to achieve  clear English. 

Losing their accent is not their end goal. 

Their accent is an important part of their identity and they just want to be easily understood by listeners. 

Many people at this level have the goal of reducing their accent as much as possible, for personal reasons listed above. 

In their opinion, their foreign accent doesn’t fit with who they are now and they want to change that. 

Being understood by others 

Listeners often ask you to repeat what you have said or you can tell that they have not understood you easily. 

Listeners understand you most of the time but sometimes you can see that they have missed a word or they ask you to repeat. 

Communicating in noisy locations can be challenging.

Listeners usually understand you easily. 

Level of English 

Medium to high 

High or very high 

Very high 

Realistic accent reduction objective within 6 months 

Aim to be easily understood all of the time.
Within 6 months you can improve your rate, volume, general mouth position, vowels, consonants, word stress and more. 

Being easily understand all of the time. 

If you decide to progress your pronunciation skills, even though your speech is already clear, further focus will result in you sounding more like a native speaker. 

12 Month accent reduction objective 

Continue to develop your clarity and pronunciation skills. 

People usually find they make noticeable improvements to word stress, sentence stress and weak vowels during this time. 

For most people they will always have a wonderful accent but their English will be clear and easy for people to understand. 

Continue to develop your clarity and pronunciation skills. 

Many people find they make noticeable improvements to word stress, sentence stress and weak vowels during this time. 

For most people they will always have a wonderful accent but their English will be clear and easy for people to understand.

As above, just remember to keep practicing.

As you progress further, improved listening skills and control are needed as the differences becomes more subtle. 

Why Losing An Accent Is Challenging 


For native English speakers, learning to speak English with a different accent is relatively easy. English speaking actors and movie stars do this all the time. They switch between a British accent and American accent for example, depending on the movie or show. Many native English speakers can achieve this within a few months of training. 

But what about for ESL speakers who are not native English speakers? How easy is that? 

It’s a completely different story for people from non-English speaking backgrounds. This is because their mouth and lip movements are used to making the specific movements of their first language. Some of the sounds and stress patterns in English don’t exist in their first language, these are the ones that they will pronounce differently. 

I’m often asked, why is it that some people can live in an English speaking country for 30 years and still sound like they arrived yesterday and other people can have been here for 1 week and sound like they’ve been here for 30 years! 

It’s because there are many factors that affect how quickly you can pick up a new accent. 

Some people have an excellent ear and are able to pick up new sounds, stresses, rhythms and mouth movements quite quickly. For some people, pronunciation and listening skills are not their strong points so it’s much more challenging. 

English pronunciation is particularly challenging too, more so than the pronunciation of many other languages. This is something to consider when people ask ‘Can I totally get rid of my accent?’ 

English is not a phonetic language. This means that the spelling of words doesn’t tell us exactly how to pronounce them. Let me show you an example. 

The letters ‘ea’ can be pronounced in many different ways, for example the ‘ea’ letters in all these words are pronounced differently: great, dead, least, area, early. 

Spelling patterns in English are very variable so there are many words that are pronunciation traps for non-native speakers. Another reason why it’s difficult for non-native speakers to completely lose their accent.

Also, you cannot tell where the stress is in a multi-syllable English word by the spelling. 

This lack of consistent rules and wide variation of spelling and pronunciation patterns all make English pronunciation challenging for learners.

 


Why Would A Person Want to Lose Their Accent? 


With English being spoken by over 2 billion people, and with only 300 million of those native English speakers, there’s a lot of people who have learned English and are speaking with a non-native speaker’s accent.

Most people who learn English as a second language aim to speak clear English. They want to be easily understood by listeners so they can communicate easily and effectively. This is most often because they use English for their work. 

Some learners want to take their spoken English to the next level and aim not only to be clear but to sound as much like a native English speaker as possible. 

Accents are wonderful. They make up such an important part of a person’s cultural identity and they bring fantastic vibrancy to life. A person should never be made to feel like they should change their accent just to sound more like a native speaker. 

If their speech is unclear, employers might request that a staff member engage in English pronunciation training. In many English speaking workplaces there is an expectation that people are able to communicate clearly with colleagues and / or clients. 

For some professions, unclear communication can even be dangerous, such as in jobs with heavy machinery or medical professionals. 

Clarity can be an issue for many native English speakers too, for example people from Glasgow in Scotland, have such a strong accent that many native English speakers struggle to understand them easily.

People are definitely getting better at understanding different accents from around the world. The internet and a wider range of international accents in TV and movies has helped a lot. 

Listeners may have increased difficulty understanding people with different pronunciation to what they are used to when there is background noise, in stressful situations or when they are tired. 

Of course in an ideal world, unclear pronunciation wouldn’t be a problem. But in reality unclear pronunciation is a problem and prevents many people from being successful in job interviews, being promoted and communicating effectively in their job. 

So, for most people who want to work in an English speaking country, having clear English that is easily understood by others is their goal. 

Some people that I work with want to completely reduce their foreign accent as much as possible. They have personal reasons for this. Most of the people I have worked with who have this goal have lived in an English speaking country for a long time and no longer identify with the culture of their first language. They feel like an English speaker so they want to sound like one too. 

 


Should I Try To Lose Or Reduce My Accent? 


Are you wondering ‘Do I need to reduce my accent or even try to get rid of it?’ 

As a Speech Pathologist with nearly 20 years of experience with English pronunciation training my thoughts are as follows:

If your pronunciation is unclear and you are not being easily understood by listeners, then you would benefit from improving your English pronunciation. It is likely that unclear speech will hold you back from achieving your best in an English speaking workplace. 

If your pronunciation is clear and people understand you easily then you do not need to change your pronunciation or accent.

Some people have the goal to sound more like a native speaker and that is their personal choice. 

Changing and improving your English pronunciation takes time and effort.

Ideally you will set aside 15 – 20 minutes every day to dedicate to improving. 

 


I Want To Try to Lose My Accent. How Can I Start By Myself?


Ok, so as I mentioned earlier, losing an accent completely takes a lot of work and a very high skill level. 

Some people have a natural ability to mimic sounds they haven’t made before, where for many others it’s more difficult. 

The way you reduce or lose an accent is through learning the correct ways to make the new sounds and engaging new mouth positions and muscles. Learning and working with these new sounds and stress patterns. 

You’ll need to do lots of practice – listening practice and speaking practice. 

To start by yourself, you need to improve your listening skills. Start by watching English TV and listening to podcasts and radio and repeating what is being said.

See some general tips on getting started with how to improve your English accent here. 

There is a lot of free material available on Youtube and on podcasts. Again this can take people to a certain point, but most free material isn’t especially well structured and is made up of short lessons. Also you probably won’t get the practice materials you need. 

Here’s a quick guide to improving English Pronunciation with Youtube – How and Where to Start. 


I Want Professional Help To Lose My Accent 


Most people need professional and expert help to successfully reduce or lose their accent. 

The first step is usually getting a full pronunciation and accent evaluation done. Getting an assessment of your English pronunciation from a professional is a very helpful step. This will give you feedback on your pronunciation strengths and weaknesses and help pin point areas that require change. 

A good English Pronunciation Assessment / Evaluation will let you know exactly what vowels and consonants you need to change to sound more like a native English speaker and what aspects of your word stress, sentence stress and rhythm you need to change too. 

If you’ve been speaking English for a long time, some of these changes to lose your accent can be very small adjustments to the way you speak and it can be challenging completing these on your own. 

There are loads of resources and course options out there. Some face to face, some online using video and audio and some providing just audio. 

My view is very simple. In order to improve your English accent for clearer English you are going to spend a lot of time and effort practicing your pronunciation over at least 3 months.

For this reason it’s worth doing some good research to find training that will suit you the best and support you in getting the best outcomes.  

I know I’m biased, but seriously. The best thing to do enrol in a quality, comprehensive course. 

The biggest determining factor of success if how often you practice.

You need a course that is well structured and accessible and gives you loads of guided practise on the right areas. 

See our article – 5 Questions to Ask For Choosing An English Pronunciation Course.

Speech Active English pronunciation Courses are proven. Our training is tailored for speakers of your language background and will systematically help you achieve your English speaking goals. Find more information about our course that is tailored specifically to speakers of your language background here: English Pronunciation Course List. 

Takeaway Message 

In summary, it’s possible but very challenging to completely lose an accent as an adult. It requires a very high level of skills and commitment.

The great news is that reducing an accent and improving pronunciation skills for clear English is easily achievable. Just about anyone can reduce their accent significantly to achieve clearer English with practice and the right help. 

 

Would you like to speak to us about your English speaking goals?

If you’ve got any questions, jump on the chat on our website or send us an email.

Or you can call us on +61411295828. If we are not available, leave a message and we will return your call as soon as we can. 


I hope to hear from you soon. 

 

Georgie Harding 

Speech Pathologist
 

Can I Lose My Accent Completely?

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Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree and CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.

Georgie is the creator the world’s leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student.

She is a regular presenter at Universities and absolutely loves helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence.

Email: [email protected]
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