Have you ever been amazed at how some people can learn another language and speak it so well? Not only do they grasp the intricacies of vocabulary and common phrases, but their accent is almost imperceptible. Me too.
If you have done the hard (but rewarding) work of learning another language, then you understand what a challenge it can be to change your accent. At Lingua East, we believe that nothing is impossible. What might seem daunting at first suddenly becomes a lot less scary when we separate out and examine the factors that make changing an accent seem so challenging.
Challenge Number 1: “I put so much effort into learning the language, if I haven’t gotten the pronunciation down by now, it will never happen.”
Unless you are a language savant like the man Neil Smith and Ianthi Maria Tsimpli wrote about in 1991, learning a language is not easy. In fact, when you were working on the basics, there were probably times you felt that you would never master the grammar, let alone all the vocabulary. But you did. Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean that it will never happen. You just have to work at it.
Challenge Number 2: “I learned the language after childhood. There’s no way I can train my mouth to make those sounds.”
One of the hot topics in neuroscience is learning. Many neuroscientists focus their studies on how the brain handles learning a second language. When you learn a second language, it changes the anatomy of your brain, making it stronger and more resistant to age-related decline. What they are finding is remarkable: while yes, it is a lot easier to learn speech motor patterns before you can drive a car, adults are able to learn new speech motor patterns.
Challenge Number 3: “I don’t know how to change my accent.”
The third challenge to changing your accent is easily solved. If you have the resources, I strongly encourage you to find a speech trainer to help you work on your accent. The rewards significantly outnumber the costs, and your future self will thank you.
However, if your resources are limited but you still want to change your accent, I recommend you learn as much as you can about your accent. That is, how does your native language affect your production of your second language? Learn IPA, visit the Speech Accent Archive, learn to use spectrogram software, and get as much feedback as you can from native speakers. Set goals and work diligently toward the accent you want. This route to changing your accent may take more time than working with a speech coach, but if you show up and put in the time, you can do it.
Challenge Number 4: “I don’t have time.”
You do have time. There is always time to do the things you want to do, sometimes you just have to get creative. The beauty of the focused practice necessary for changing an accent is that it only requires about an hour a day. What’s more, you can knock out this hour of practice in four fifteen-minute increments, spaced throughout the day. If you work on your accent during all those little free moments you have between tasks, you can easily squeeze an hour of speech practice into your day. You do have time, and there is no time like the present to start.
The common thread here is persistence. If you want to change your accent, then do it. It probably will not be easy, and there are no immediate results when it comes to accent modification. However, whether you have spoken your second language for decades or you just reached an advanced level, you are capable of changing your accent. Your brain is capable of learning the motor speech patterns of the accent you want (or at least coming really close). No matter where you are in the world, if you have an internet connection, you have the resources to change your accent. And there is always time.
The biggest challenge of changing your accent is you. Now that you know that, you can overcome the challenges and change your accent. Get started today. Let them hear your ideas, not your accent.
 Smith, N. & Tsimpli, I.M., (1991). Linguistic modularity? A case study of a ‘Savant’ linguist. Lingua, 84, 315-351.
 Li, P., Legault, J., & Litcofsky, K. (2014). Neuroplasticity as a function of second language learning: Anatomical changes in the human brain. Cortex, 58, 301-324.