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Can I Change My Accent?

» Can I Change My Accent?

November 1st, 2007 by admin

Can I change my accent?

Answer provided by Anthea Fraser Gupta (With input from other panelists), School of English, University of Leeds
Yes. Accents are not fixed. Our accents change over time as our needs change and as our sense of who we are changes and develops. Usually this happens naturally, and often unconsciously. Accents can be expected to change until we are in our early twenties. This is usually the time we come to some sort of decision about who we are. But even after that, if you want (and need) to change your accent, you can.

To change your accent you have to want to. Really want to, deep down. This usually happens without much effort because you move to a new place, mix with different people, or develop new aspirations.

If a change hasn’t happened naturally but you want to change your accent, you should ask yourself why. What is it about the messages you give to people that you don’t like? Are you finding it difficult to be a member of a group you want to join because you don’t speak in the way the group expects? Do you need to change your badge of identity?

Sometimes it is other people’s prejudice that you are responding to. Some popular prejudiced against certain groups (many Ask-A-Linguist postings suggest that a lot of people in the US are prejudiced against people from the Southern US). Do you want to accept other people’s prejudice? I myself changed my pronunciation of words like book, look because of pressure. I used to pronounce look the same as Luke (/lu:k/), which a lot of people found funny, so I changed look (to the vowel of ‘put’) to be more like other people. But it is sad to succumb to pressure like this — it is no different from dark skinned people using skin whitening creams to look like pale skinned people, or East Asian people having their eyelids operated on to get European looking eyes.

Anyway, if you do decide you have good reasons for changing your accent, and you want to put in some effort these are some things to do.

* Identify the accent you want to speak.
* Expose yourself to the accent you want as much as possible.
* Try to get some friends who speak with the accent you want.
* Try to make sure you are not mixing with people who will criticise you for changing your accent.

Here is what is recommended as a method by one of our panelists, Suzette Hayden Elgin. If you do this, it is best to choose recordings of someone of your own gender.:

I suggest the following procedure, which has worked very well for many people:

1. Get a cassette tape of someone who speaks English with the accent that you would like to have, at least twenty minutes long.
2. Listen to the entire tape all the way through once or twice, just to become familiar with its content. Don’t write it down or try to memorize it.
3. Listen to a brief sequence — just a sentence or two. Rewind the tape to the beginning of that sentence.
4. Say the sentence aloud _with_ the tape. Don’t repeat it after the tape as is done in traditional foreign language courses — speak with the speaker. Don’t worry about making mistakes, just do your best to speak simultaneously with the speaker.
5. Rewind to the beginning of the sentence and do this again, several times. (Ten times is not too many.)
6. Move to the next sentence and do the same thing.
7. Continue until you’ve worked your way through the whole tape speaking with your chosen model speaker.

The amount of time it takes for this to yield good results varies from one individual to another, depending on many factors. I’d suggest working in at least fifteen minute sessions and at least three days each week. When you become so familiar with the tape that you know it by heart or you’re so bored with it that you can’t stand it, choose a different tape that uses the same accent and repeat the process. Be careful not to work with any one tape so long that you start sounding as if you were trying to do an impersonation of the speaker.


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