Knowledge Update

Accents and Language Proficiency: Achieving Perfect Pronunciation

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If you are looking to improve your language proficiency, it is important to do your best to remove any accents that might exist in your native language. Accents are difficult for listeners to understand and can significantly detract from the quality of your conversation, whether you are speaking with business colleagues or just practicing with a friend. When it comes to language, an accent is a native speaker’s idiosyncratic pronunciation of a certain language. It is usually defined as either a socially or geographically determined variation in speech, although linguists are increasingly aware that accents may be determined by other, non-social factors such as level of education or proficiency with a language (Miley and Farmer, 2017). When talking about someone’s accent, it is important to remember that no two people speak alike; even people who grew up next door to each other will end up with different accents!

The first step to good pronunciation is knowing how each sound is supposed to sound in a word. The idea behind mastering individual sounds is that once you know how these sounds are supposed to sound, you will be able to recognize them in spoken English. With enough practice, you will have learned what proper pronunciation feels like. Getting rid of your foreign intonation patterns is very important. When an American comes to Nigeria and does not change their accent or habits when speaking, it can cause confusion on behalf of listeners. It makes them unsure if they understood what was said correctly. Also, some words simply sound better with different accents than others but it does make a difference in how your message is interpreted.

Moreover, most American English speech is spoken in a fairly neutral tone, intonation patterns in American English do have regional differences (Kim and Butler 2017). The differences may be hard to pick up for those with different accents, but if one is trying to learn how to speak better, here are a few things that you need to keep in mind.

Any language is difficult to pronounce in its entirety. Luckily, there are several factors that contribute to difficulty when pronouncing a foreign language. Here are some tips that can help with improving pronunciation at all levels.

  • Learn common spelling patterns of your target language.

You should be able to recite words as you read them, understanding how each letter sounds in relation to others. This will make it easier for you to recognize words on paper or hear them spoken by another person. It will also make it easier for native speakers to understand what you are saying if they do not know what word you are trying to say.

  • Pay attention while listening to native speakers speak their language.

If possible, try recording conversations so that you can listen back later without distraction from other people or noises around you. Once you have time to reflect on what was said, write down any unfamiliar words or phrases and look up their meanings. Try practicing these new phrases until they become more familiar.

  • Practice speaking out loud whenever possible.

One may feel silly doing it in front of a mirror or talking to yourself, but practice makes perfect! The more an individual practices speaking out loud, whether it is reciting vocabulary lists aloud or simply having conversations with yourself, the better you will get at recognizing where mistakes occur and correcting them quickly.

References

Miley, Suzi Keller, and Aarek Farmer. “English Language Proficiency and Content Assessment Performance: A Comparison of English Learners and Native English Speakers Achievement.” English Language Teaching, vol. 10, no. 9, 2017, doi:10.5539/elt.v10n9p198.

Wolf Mikyung Kim, and Yuko Goto Butler. English Language Proficiency Assessments for Young Learners. Routledge, 2017.

 

Mr. Adelokun Adetunji Oluwapelumi is a Lecturer II at the School of Art, Management and Social Science, Skyline University Nigeria. He has a Master of Arts Degree in English Literature from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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