If you speak a second (or third…) language with a strong or recognisable accent influenced by your first language, you are not alone. As a teacher of English pronunciation, I work with people with a wide range of pronunciation habits and accents.
Everyone has an accent
A popular internet meme says (I paraphrase):
Speaking without an accent is like typing without a font.
I wholly agree. There is no such thing as not having an accent. Everyone who speaks has one. Some accents are (rightly or wrongly) considered ‘standard’ in the language and some may be more unusual or noticeable.
If your accent is more on the ‘noticeable’ side, there is a wide range of positive, negative and neutral feelings you may have about that. You don’t need me to tell you this, but your personal feelings about how you speak are always entirely valid.
There are as many attitudes towards our own way of speaking as there are individuals. It’s common and normal to:
- consider your accent a core part of your identity and NEVER want to speak any other way!
- be curious about exploring other accents/pronunciation patterns
- enjoy the attention when people comment on your accent
- feel annoyed when people comment on your accent
- like when people call your accent cute or charming
- get irritated and roll your eyes when people call your accent cute or charming
- want to clarify persistent pronunciation mysteries (how exactly do ‘wander’ and ‘wonder’ sound different?)
- want to do justice to your target language by exploring its pronunciation intricacies, just like you did with grammar in the early days
- have a personal interest in phonetics and sounds
- feel a mix of all of these things depending on your mood or the day!
My accent journey
I recognise myself in many of the above – mostly the last one! English is my first language and I speak French as a second language. I have taken pronunciation/phonetics sessions in French and worked quite hard on those sounds, often feeling silly and failing, but ultimately making progress and enjoying the journey. I think this enables me to approach my own clients’ English pronunciation journeys with empathy.
I wanted to do the French language justice by attempting to get its pronunciation ‘right’. The clear notion of a standard French pronunciation was actually helpful in this. Well-intentioned people insisted that my English-influenced pronunciations were ‘charming’, therefore they should stay unchanged. To me, this almost felt a little like gatekeeping and assigning me a box. I wanted choices and was curious, so I worked on it. I will never sound like a native French speaker, but simple changes like using more accurate vowels really helped me have smoother interactions during my time in France, ultimately increasing my confidence with the language.
The gift of choice
I strive to offer my clients this same choice and confidence in English pronunciation. Many of the people I teach feel something similar to what I described above, compounded by the fact that English lacks a clear concept of ‘standard’ pronunciation, which can be confusing. Variety is to be celebrated, but sometimes we need a little clear guidance.
Your accent and pronunciation habits are always your business. It’s nobody else’s place to tell you what to do with them!
If you are interested in exploring English pronunciation training, get in touch for a chat about how I can help.