Accent and dialect – key differences
Before you learn how to change your accent, let’s consider what an accent actually is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides several definitions, for example:
- an effort in speech to stress one syllable over adjacent syllables,
- a distinctive manner of expression,
- a mark placed to the right of a letter or number and usually slightly above it.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll adopt the second definition because it’s the way of pronouncing words that’s crucial here and, more specifically, ensuring that it won’t reveal your country or region of origin.
But before we talk about getting rid of your accent, let’s consider the differences between a dialect and an accent. We already know what an accent is – but what about a dialect?
According to the dictionary, a dialect is a regional variety of a language. The main difference between an accent and a dialect is that the former only refers to how specific words are pronounced, while the definition of a dialect spans specific words that are not present in the language – or at least not in its dominant form.
It’s worth noticing that people using one regional dialect often speak with more popular accents, too. For example, you can see it in the UK, where as many as 40 different English accents and dialects are present.
Why do we have an accent?
When we’re born, we can recognize all sounds that make up any language. Therefore, regardless of their place of birth, all babies have the same set of tools that allows them to recognize any sound. Only in the later stages of life does this ability disappear as the child adapts to the world around them and begins to pick up and remember only those sounds that are used by their parents, ignoring those that they consider irrelevant in the communication process.
So, we speak with an accent because our speech apparatus has adapted to a specific set of sounds selected while learning to speak. Therefore, we have difficulties pronouncing some sounds that are not present in our mother tongue. To change your accent, it’s recommended to start work as early as possible.
Remember, however, that having an accent isn’t bad as it can give you a sense of belonging to a community, so it’s not something to be ashamed of. Still, there are several reasons why you should work on your accent – and we’ll cover them later in this article.
How to improve your accent – and should you even worry about it?
Is it worth working to improve your accent? Of course. By changing your accent and pronouncing words like a native speaker, you’ll be much easier to understand. And that’s what learning foreign languages is all about – communicating with others.
Sometimes, improving your accent can also help you at work. There are professions, such as acting, that require different accents. Your accent can also be essential while making new connections. A perfectly mastered Received Pronunciation, an accent common among the upper class in England, might help you make a good impression at a business meeting.
6 ways to change your accent
At the beginning of working on your accent, you’ll have to choose one specific accent that you want to use because when you plan to get rid of your current accent, you’ll effectively have to learn a new one.
Because everyone speaks with a specific accent, working to change it comes down to simply replacing one with the other. But how exactly can you do it?
1. Dedicated courses
How to improve your accent? With special courses designed specially for this purpose. SuperMemo offers two English pronunciation courses to help you accomplish just that: for learning British and American accents, respectively. Both of them contain nearly 1,400 interactive exercises and show what the process of creating each sound looks like, as well as present examples of expressions where these sounds appear.
Soon, apps with speech recognition features will also help you change your accent, as they’re becoming more and more sensitive to linguistic nuances, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer for this moment.
2. Surround yourself with language
One of the best ways to learn a foreign language and improve your accent is to travel abroad and use that language as often as possible to become familiar with it every day. For those who cannot afford a longer stay or even a short trip, we have some tips for learning a foreign at home:
- Change the language in all devices you use every day: smartphone, browser, smartwatch, applications, and games,
- Be responsible with the wide resources streaming platforms have to offer and improve your accent along with the characters of your favorite series,
- Listen to foreign audiobooks and podcasts,
- Find a native speaker with whom you can talk and practice to get rid of your accent.
3. Practice makes perfect
Even though it might sound like a no-brainer, it’s hard to disagree with the statement that the more you work on your accent, the better your results will be. Here’s how to work on your accent:
- Record your speech and listen to it until you master the pronunciation of specific phrases and sounds. It’s also worth consulting a native speaker to verify your progress,
- Read aloud as much as possible. If you’re not sure how to pronounce a given word, check it using Google Translate, where you can hear the correct pronunciation by clicking the speaker icon under the word you enter. There are also other exciting tools available, such as:
- PlayPhrase – enter the word or phrase you’re interested in and see parts of series and movies with examples of pronunciation. But be cautious when using this tool, as sometimes you may find people speaking with a strong accent,
- YouGlish – this tool works similarly to the previous one, with the difference being that it shows parts of YouTube videos in which you can hear the pronunciation of the phrase you’re interested in.
It might be an unusual tip, but it’ll be easier for you to implement the correct pronunciation in everyday communication by being over-correct while learning. In the beginning, it doesn’t hurt to emphasize the position of your lips and tongue. However, make sure that it doesn’t turn into a habit.
5. Use a dictionary
Of course, you don’t have to carry a paper version of it – just have your smartphone at hand. Remember to check the pronunciation of new words and try to pronounce them with the correct accent from the very beginning.
6. Breaking the language barrier
We learn foreign languages mainly to communicate with foreigners. So, start doing it as soon as possible. If you have the opportunity to talk with a native speaker, don’t be afraid to do it, even if you don’t have a perfect command of the language yet. Nobody can help you work on your accent better than the person who speaks the language from the moment they were born.
Of course, many of us struggle with the language barrier. We’re ashamed of our imperfections and lack of proficiency. However, it’s impossible to become an expert without making a few mistakes on your way. The truth is that we usually pay the most attention to our linguistic mistakes, not the people we talk with. What’s more, if you show confidence during the conversation, they’ll be more likely to believe in your abilities, and it’ll be easier for them to ignore some of your shortcomings.
Can you change your accent?
Anyone can work on their accent but whether you fully manage to get rid of your accent depends on many factors. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if your work doesn’t bring the expected results after the first few sessions. The earlier you start learning a language, the easier it’ll be for you to change your accent and speak like a native speaker.
Instead of changing your accent, change the pronunciation
Remember that it’s not the accent that’s the most important to be correctly understood. Instead, you must pronounce each word correctly, especially those that sound similar.
If you’re having a hard time improving your accent, it’s a good idea to start by learning the correct pronunciation. All you need is a set of sounds available in your native language and a bit of practice, and soon, you’ll sound like a native speaker.
Improve your accent with SuperMemo
If you want to start working on your accent and achieve your dream of reaching a higher level of English proficiency, check our English pronunciation courses and start speaking like a native speaker today.