Do you spend more than your fair share of study time trying to speak without an accent? You can identify all of the sounds that native speakers are making but for some reason it just doesn’t sound the same when you say it. The frustration of missing the mark when it comes to native-like pronunciation happens to all of us– but it doesn’t have to get you down. Read on to learn how accents work and why having one might not be such a bad thing.
Why is native-like pronunciation so hard?
Researchers know that our ears begin to tune to the language around us even before we are born. By the time we reach our first birthday, the babbling and attempts at speech we make are brimming with the sounds we need to speak our mother tongue. That means studying a language which contains new sounds later on in life, particularly after we’ve passed puberty, can be quite a challenge for the ears and tongue. Extensive exposure to and practice with the phonemes and rhythms of a new language can sometimes help us sound more native, but the odds are definitely against us when it comes to fooling someone completely.
Maybe sounding native shouldn’t be the goal
Most audiobooks, digital apps and classroom programs encourage learners to sound like native speakers of the language they are learning. However, there exists some disagreement over the native speaker standard in the applied linguistics community. That’s because linguists claim everyone has an accent, even in their mother tongue, and that maintaining your accent in a second language may actually be a fundamental part of establishing your identity as a speaker who comes from another culture and linguistic tradition. Consider this, twice as many people speak English as a second language than as a native one! So having an accent means you are actually in the majority and the same can be said for many other world languages.
Why intelligibility should be key
One of the biggest arguments for the native speaker standard in pronunciation is it helps provide a uniform model to ensure we all sound somewhat alike. After all, without a bit of phoneme continuity languages are likely to develop unintelligible variations in new geographies. But thanks to today’s online world and global media services, everyone sounding the same is less of a concern than before. So make sure your pronunciation is clear enough to ensure you will be understood and then give yourself a break when it comes to meeting those near-impossible native speaker standards. Try to be as proud of the way you sound as native speakers are of their regional accents!
Lingua.ly uses a service called Forvo to provide an audio sound-bite for every word you look up in the language you are learning. Sometimes it is a native speaker saying the word– and sometimes it is a second language speaker! Interested in learning more about audio dictionaries? Groups like the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Langauges are actually traveling the world creating recordings of dieing languages before it’s too late. If you love languages and want to know more, we encourage you to get in touch and get involved!