A Great Step Toward A Better Accent

What is the most important thing you could do to improve your accent? Some people believe the important factor is talking more. The more you talk, the more you practice.

Is that really the most important factor?

No doubt, when you talk, you hear your own pronunciations and so you can calibrate your accent better. However, there’s something else that’s even more important than talking in a language…

That is “listening”.

When non-natives have a problem pronouncing a word or making a specific sound, the reason is not due to physical limitations. The goal of practicing is not to improve the capabilities of lips, tongue, or vocal cords. Non-natives have those capabilities too. The difference is in the brain.

For example, some non-natives may have problem pronouncing the unvoiced “TH”, like in the word “Think”. Some may pronounce “TH” as “S”. That is not because they have problem with placement of their lips or tongues. That’s because their brain has problem distinguishing unvoiced “TH” from “S” easily.

Since “TH” does not exist in their mother tongue, for them the same region of brain lights up for both the unvoiced “TH” sound and “S”. Of course, if they consciously pay attention they can tell the difference, but during natural conversations that happen quickly, their brain puts unvoiced “TH” and “S” in the same region.

What does that mean?

That means that during conversations, their brain quickly puts the unvoiced “TH” and “S” in the same category, because in their childhood they did not hear unvoiced “TH” and their brain does not have a region for it.

So the problem started with not hearing the unvoiced “TH”, not with not being able to say it.

How can we create a special region for specific sounds?

The answer is by “listening”.

However, there’s a catch…

The catch is that it takes a special kind of listening that can create a specific region for specific sounds.

Probably, you have come across people who have lived in the US for many years, or even decades, and yet they have problem pronouncing certain words and phrases. Obviously, they have heard those words and phrases many times. So the mere hearing is not enough. It takes a special way of listening.

In the article, “how to listen for better accent” you will learn about the proper way of listening.