Can you really lose your accent?
Yes! says accent reduction expert and "Lose Your Accent in 28 Days" author Judy Ravin.
For the first year and a half, babies make all possible sounds imaginable, explains Ravin. By the age of two, babies have limited the number of sounds they make based on the response that mom, dad, and others are giving them. Of course, they get the best response when they make sounds that are understood. In other words, in their parent's native language. But the key is that, physiologically, we're all able to make all the sounds in every language.
So if it’s not a physical problem, what is it? Most pronunciation problems are the result of cognitive problems. What does this mean? It means that learners have difficulties conceptualizing sounds. They have trouble hearing the difference between various sounds, organizing them in their brains, and using them as needed. For example, many Asian speakers confuse the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds. The problem is not that Asian speakers are not able to produce an ‘r’ or an ‘l’ sound. They can produce both. The problem is in the conceptualization. They have difficulty keeping the sounds distinct from another and determining when to use each. So the first step is in learning the sound differences between the way you are currently pronouncing sounds, words, and sentences, and the correct way. To put it simply, if you don’t know what’s broken, you don’t know what to fix.
Human beings are hard-wired for language learning. When you learn something new and practice it, you're creating new synaptic junctures in our brains. You can be successful at pronunciation training — it's just a matter of changing your brain's wiring. When you practice correct pronunciation, you're changing the wiring in your brain. This wiring becomes reinforced through repetition. That's why Ravin always advises accent reduction students to practice, practice, practice!
To summarize, the three steps involved with improving your pronunciation are:
- Learn the sound differences between the way you are currently pronouncing sounds and words and the correct way.
- Learn the techniques necessary to produce the sounds differently. This involves changing the way you form your mouth to make sounds. You can do this with the help of a teacher or with self-study guides that include a video component such as "Lose Your Accent in 28 Days."
- Practice to reinforce the new wiring in your brain! Learning proper pronunciation requires experience and time. By practicing good habits and getting feedback, you’ll improve your pronunciation.