Should you focus on trying to sound like a native English speaker?
Over the years, I’ve had a fair number of new students who stated that they want to sound like a native English speaker. There were also those who wished to speak with a “British accent”.
Frankly, I’ve always found such requests to be a little bit disturbing. This is because these students have a delusion that they would sound much more convincing if they could replicate the sound of a British accent.
I don’t support such an approach.
Let’s jump in to find out why.
WANT TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER? … SORRY, IT’S AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK
From time to time, new students contact me with only one goal in mind - to sound like a native English speaker. More specifically, they dream of speaking with a British accent.
Look, it’s not going to happen.
In the past, I had a few students who spoke English with very, very slight accents. They obviously immersed themselves in English day and night. However, even they were prone to producing the odd quirky intonation pattern which would have given away the fact that they’re foreigners.
Hence, the average adult intermediate-level Polish learner of English, for example, who has a heavy Polish accent, faces an impossible task of getting rid of their Polish accent and “adopting” a British accent.
I’M ALL TOO AWARE OF MY BRITISH ACCENT WHEN I SPEAK SERBIAN AND POLISH
I’ve never had complexes about retaining my British accent when I speak foreign languages.
I always remember how some Polish people tried to get me to roll the letter “r”.
Frankly, it seemed like such hard work and a really pointless task.
My main goal has always been to be understood - not to sound like a native Polish person.
Or Serb. I’m fluent in Serbian.
So, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be overcome by complexes about sounding like a Russian, Pole or Chinese when you speak English.
Indeed, influential English language instructor Kasia Highton put it very well in her post about why so many people aim to speak English with a British accent (written in the Polish language). Essentially, “Mówimy komicznie, nienaturalnie i sztucznie.”. Translated into English, people speak comically, unnaturally and artificially.
FORGET TRYING TO ATTAIN A BRITISH ACCENT - YOU HAVE BIGGER FISH TO FRY
If you want to sound like a native English speaker, you’d be well advised to focus on introducing the schwa sound and connected speech to your speech.
I’ve made the point so many times on this blog - you should not pronounce function words (short words, such as “for, with a grammatical function) in their full forms. The vowel sound, in a word like “to”, should sound like /ə/ and not u:/. Hence, we have:
strong /tuː/ weak /tə
Using schwa will help you to create a perception of fluency in that your utterances will be quicker because your mouth has less work to do in transitions between the end of function words and the beginning of content words (adjectives and verbs etc).
Let’s also not forget about the usefulness of learning collocations.
When you focus your attention on collocations, it’s vital to create true personalised sentences with them. With a few thousand personalised sentences "swimming" around in your brain, you’ll be well prepared for your future conversations. That is the essence of fluency - having a range of personalised sentences at the tip of your tongue. Naturally, it’s vital that you read through these sentences on a regular basis for them to stick in your mind.
THE OUTCOME OF TRYING TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER IS DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT
You shouldn’t have to sound like a native speaker.
After all, life’s too short to pretend to be someone else.
Why be ashamed of who you are?
Just be yourself.