AM I TOO OLD TO CHANGE MY ACCENT?
By Georgie Harding – Founder & Head Speech Pathologist
Am I Too Old – Is It Too Late – To Change My Accent?
No, it’s not too late – You can change and improve your accent at any age.
They say the best time to plant a tree is yesterday, the next best time is today.
English pronunciation training is the same – the best time to start was yesterday but the NEXT BEST time to start is right now… and you’re starting by reading this article… well done to you!
Am I too old or is it too late to start English Pronunciation training? It’s never too late and you’re not too old to change your English accent. It is generally true that it’s easier for younger people, especially children. For older people it can just mean more practise and repetition but it’s definitely, absolutely achievable. It’s never been a better time to start improving.
As a Speech Pathologist who specialises in pronunciation, and someone who loves accents, I’d like to share with you some of my insights into how a learner’s age and skills impacts on their ability change their accent and pronunciation skills.
Let’s look at some key factors, like ‘accent’, ‘why would i want to change it?’, what do i actually do to change it and so on.
What Is An Accent?
The Cambridge dictionary defines an accent as the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words.
Everyone in the world has an ‘accent’ of some type. We have an accent in our first language (sometimes called our ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language’) and we will have an accent in our 2nd language too.
When speaking in English, the way non-native speakers pronounce words gives us clues as to where they are from! That’s what gives an accent.
Accents start being formed from when we are babies, a study of Japanese and English babies found that at one year old some Japanese children could not distinguish an /l/ sound because it is not used when speaking Japanese.
For most people, accents are an important part of who they are and they don’t consider changing their accent UNLESS it causes problems with being understood.
If a person has a really strong accent that’s is different to what listeners are used to, it can mean that the people simply can’t understand what you are saying.
They might miss some words that you say. This happens to many people when speaking in their 2nd language, as pronunciation and accent can be challenging to pick up as an adult.
So, in a nutshell, accents are a great part of people’s lives, but when the way a person pronounces words means that they are not easily understood, then it’s something that they usually want to change. There’s a problem that needs to be addressed and that problem is CLARITY!
The good news is that for most people, they only need to change a few areas of their English pronunciation to be clear.
It’s crucial to remember that there are areas of pronunciation that affect clarity and areas that don’t – these only affect accent. See my article here on clarity and why we should stop using the term ‘accent reduction’ here..
Also, more good news is that we’re much more used to understanding different accents in English speaking countries than in the past, and people are getting better at this all the time.
What should I be aiming for?
This is a personal choice.
In my view, it doesn’t matter what accent you have when you speak English, as long as it’s clear to listeners. For someone speaking English as a second language being clear and easily understood is the highest priority, rather than sounding more like a native English speaker. Although some people will aim for this in the long term.
Clarity should be the first step. As a first step, you want to be sure that listeners are able to understand what you are saying easily, so you can communicate effectively at work and in your everyday life.
See more on learning different accents – British accent, American accent or Australian accent for example – in my article on ‘Which English accent is best?’
What Is Accent Reduction or Accent Training?
The process of changing an accent is defined by Wikipedia as “a system based approach to learn a new a new speech accent. It is the process of learning the sound system (or phonology) and melodic intonation of a language so the non-native speaker can communicate with clarity to be understood in everyday situations when speaking to native speakers”.
The process of changing an accent is also known as: English pronunciation training, accent reduction, accent modification, accent training. I like to use English pronunciation training see why here – ‘Why We Should Stop Using The Term ‘Accent Reduction‘.
When we change an accent we are simply changing the way you pronounce sounds and speech patterns such as words stress and sentence stress in English.
For example, many Japanese speakers have difficulty pronouncing the English sounds /l/ and /f/ (see more on this here). They can learn how to make /l/ and /r/ correcting in English words.
Many speakers of Vietnamese have difficulty pronouncing consonant sounds at the ends of English words, because they don’t have similar sounds at the ends of words in Vietnamese. Not using word endings correctly in English makes many words unclear. With practise speakers like this can learn to pronounce sounds at the ends of their words in English correctly for clearer English.
Changing your English accent and English pronunciation is a lot like learning a new instrument. It takes practice. The older you get, the more practice you will need to do it. Similar huh!
The process for accent reduction is usually this:
- Identify what sounds and stresses are incorrect
- Choose the high priority areas that could result in unclear English
- Systematically work to correct the sounds and incorrect
– Learn to hear the difference between the new sound / speech pattern and the old
– Learn to pronounce the new sound / speech pattern correctly in words and phrases
– Master the new sound in natural speaking
Pronouncing English sounds in a new way means your brain and muscles need to learn new ways of moving. Your first language will have a lot of influence on which English pronunciation areas you have to focus on.
All of this is achieved through practice. The more you work on your English Pronunciation skills the faster you will get results. It’s just like learning tennis or studying for an exam.
The key is being able to hear the things you need to change and practising regularly. An English Pronunciation Training course gives you these skills and the practise you need in an easy to follow format.
Would you like to revise all the sounds in English? This will help you understand what sounds you are making differently to a native speaker. You can revise all the vowel sounds and consonant sounds and record your pronunciation and compare it with a native English speaker at this page – Listen & Record – All The Sounds In English.
Remember – to speak English more clearly you might only need to improve a few areas – improving a few sounds and the rhythm of your English might be all that’s needed to speak clearly and be easily understood.
So anyone can do this at any age. It’s easiest when you are younger than when you are older but it can be achieved through practise.
Should I Change My Accent?
If people sometimes find your English accent difficult to understand then it is probably a good idea to work on changing a few aspects of it. You can work on improving the aspects that affect clarity to make your English clearer.
If you are often repeating yourself then it’s difficult for you and the person you are speaking with to communicate well. It can be tiring and frustrating.
If you’re English is sometimes unclear it’s a good idea to investigate training options to help you speak more clearly.
If your English is clear, and people don’t ask you to repeat then you don’t need to change your accent and engage in accent reduction training. Some people want to speak English as much like a native speaker as possible and so they take accent reduction training to help them achieve that goal.
An example of a high priority area that affects how clear your English is to listeners is word stress. Word stress is the rhythm and emphasis that we use in English multi-syllable words. This has a very strong effect on how clear your English will be. Many non-native English speakers use flat stress or stress on the wrong syllable of words and this makes their English unclear.
An example of a low priority area that doesn’t affect clarity is ‘th’ like in the words ‘think’ and ‘that’. Many non-native speakers don’t make the ‘th’ sound correctly in English and that’s just fine! People will still understand you easily if you say “I tink’ instead of “I think” So don’t worry about ‘th’. It should be at the bottom of your priority list!
Your accent is a really important part of who you are. There’s no need to change your accent unless it’s causing communication problems.
And even then, there are parts of your accent that affect clarity and parts that don’t!
What does the science say?
Your ears can be trained to hear new sounds and your mouth can be trained to make new sounds and speech patterns.
That’s all accent training is!
Children under 11 years of age who become fluent in a language generally it up with virtually no foreign accent or influence from their first language.
People who learn a new language when they are older than 11 years of age tend to have influence from their first language. It is extremely difficult (almost impossible) for people who have learnt a language as an adult to speak the new language with no detectable foreign accent.
The general agreement is the older you are, the more work and practice will be required. However anyone can achieve improvement with a focused approach.
Here’s something interesting!
Animals speak in accents. Did you know that goats who grew up in one place will sound different to goats who grew up in another place.
Well I never knew that! Obviously we don’t know whether this impacts on how effective their communication is when they move to a new farm but it does tell us that accents are everywhere : )
Where do I start with English Pronunciation Training?
There are so many options for getting started.
A great, free place to start is with our free 5 day English Pronunciation Online Course.
It’s online so anyone in the world can join and it’s loved by our students. It’s tailored for speakers of your first language which is why we get such great results.
If you would like to take a look at our full 6 months tailored courses, see more details here – Tailored English Pronunciation Course List.
I’ve been helping people who speak English as a second language to improve their pronunciation since 2004 – that’s a long time.
You might like to see my article 5 Questions to Ask for Choosing an English Pronunciation Course. It will help you do the right research so you choose a course that’s right for you.
How long does it take to make a difference?
Most of my students start hearing differences within a month and start noticing a big change in their speech within 3 months.
In saying that some notice improvements as quickly as a week into their course.
The great thing is as humans we’re naturally wired to start speaking like the people around us – so if you’re working or living with English speakers you’re off to a great start.
Remember to try and speak as much English as possible in your everyday life. Talk to native speakers as much as you can, face to face or on the phone…. whenever you can, the more the better!
Three take-way messages for “Am I too old, or is it too late to start changing my English accent’.
1. An accent is defined as the way people in a particular region or country pronounce their words. To change an accent a person needs to learn new ways of pronouncing sounds or new ways of making stress patterns in a language. Anyone can do this at any age! It can help to get clear help with this process as it’s difficult to do it by yourself.
2. Being easily understood by your listeners is your first objective. If you start working on your accent you should choose the areas that affect clarity first.
3. There are many options for starting to change or improve your accent for clearer English. You can start right now with our free 5 day English Pronunciation Online Course.
Or if you are ready to get serious, check out our 6 month English Pronunciation Courses that are tailored specifically for speakers of your first language.
Here is a video that I made a few years ago. It is under our previous brand – Star Pronunciation but it gives the main ideas of why it isn’t too late for you to start improving your English pronunciation and English accent.
Contact us today to talk about your English speaking goals and find out how our courses will help you speak English with clear pronunciation and sound more like a native speaker.
Check out our tailored English Pronunciation and Fluency Courses and start seriously improving today.
Call us on +61 411 295 828.
Chat with us on our website chat tool.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up the great work.
Founder of Speech Active
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English Pronunciation – Is it too late to start? Or Am I Too Old?
Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPath) 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 and presents regularly at Universities.
If you’ve ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you’ll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence.
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