Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Building and maintaining your accent

When it comes to learning a language, it's a pity that a lot of people neglect the custom to use a proper accent. Ok, in the very beginning it can be difficult to have a proper accent, but you shouldn't worry too much about output in the beginning anyway. Using a proper accent from the beginning is the only way to fluency. It doesn't matter if you choose to use a Mexican, Argentinan or Spain-Spanish accent, as long as you stick with the accent you choose to use. This will be easier for you in the end, and will boost your learning progress because you'll be confident speaking Spanish.

In once met a woman who has been living in Spain for over 20 years. Her Spanish was just perfect, vocabluary and grammar wise. Her pronounciation, however, was just terrible. You could clearly hear she was from England as her r was exactly the same as an English r. Her rolling r was simpy non-existent. Of course people were able to understand her, but they would often make fun of her accent or just wouldn't listen because it was such a drag to do so.

This shows how important an accent can be. You want to be taken seriously, don't you? "Ahhh, as long as they understand me it's ok. It's just impossible to sound like a native". WRONG! I've had some serious 'rolling r' problems myself. I just couldn't roll my r with the tip of my tongue. So what did I do? I've been practicing like a madman for weeks. My roommates got crazy because I was trying to produce rolling sounds all day, but I didn't care. Eventually I was able to produce a rolling sound, but wasn't able to put it into words. So I've been practicing again, for weeks and weeks. Now I can finally put a nice, smooth, rolling r into every word I want. With ease. Why? Simply because I want to have a perfect accent and I don't want to give up this beautiful language just because I can't roll my r.

I liked reading Barry Farber's book "How To Learn Any Language". He said something like: Why would you invest a lot of time and energy in gaining a proper accent afterwards if you can get a proper accent from the beginning with juuuuuuuust a little bit of extra energy? I think is right on this one. I've been practicing a lot of Spanish speaking with a bad accent, and it cost me quite some energy and time to abandon this accent and get myself a proper one. It even set me back a little bit. First, because I was spending so much time practicing my accent. Second, because I felt bad because of my accent and 'why I couldn't do that r sound'. This shouldn't happen to you, if you take up the challenge to make your accent perfect.

I like to visit the How-to-learn-any-language forum, as a lot of great people with great ideas regarding language learning visit it every day. There I've read something about shadowing (another link, with some useful threads). It's quite difficult to exactly explain, but it works like this: you listen-read a text, or a part of a text (for this you need a piece of text - better take a long book you REALLY like - with the matching audio, obviously), and then COPY the spoken text yourself. That's not the trickiest part, but it will get tricky as you need to speak out every word at the same time as the audio. I know, it's hard to do, but it will get easier. I've done it myself, and I actually like it. It enables me to copy the proper accent of the speaker of the audiobook, which will stick and will be there outside the shadowing exercises.

To put it together; acquiring a correct accent isn't hard and won't take much time, if you begin acquiring it at an early stage. However, it can be a pain in the *** if you start too late with it, so you better start early (preferably in the first month of your studies, maybe even the first two weeks). I might take a bilingual book/text to shadow with, so you can pick up some new vocabulary aswell.


Bilingual Blogger said...

I couldn't agree with you more! If someone truly wants to speak a language well, they should strive to pronounce it well. Improving my pronunciation in Spanish is a goal of mine too. I've done a couple of podcasts on Spanish pronunciation with a Spanish teacher from Buenos Aires and we plan to do more later this spring. Feel free to check them out over at

Thanks for the tip about the Barry Farber book. It sounds like it is worth checking out.

Rmss said...

Really, go to a library which has the Farber book, or buy one. It's a really good motivation-guide.

About your podcast; I really like it. Will add it to my blogroll. Thanks!

Brujis said...

I stumbled upon your blog doing a Google search. I was talking to a Nicaraguan friend of mine who said:

"Si quieres mi acento, no escuches solo lo que digo, sino ponme la atencion a como lo digo. Ponme la atencion en como formo mis palabras y la fuerza con que pronuncio las palabras."

I just don't know which accent I want to acquire. The Colombian accent that was ingrained in me in high school or the melodic Mexican accent of which my friends make fun. Caribbean accents sound sexy, but many are inaudible to me.

In a book I read that a sibling told the Latino author that he didn't learn to speak English; the brother told the author that he learned to speak "College".

Whatever the case, apparently I'm headed down a good direction. I don't speak with an American accent.

I really enjoyed your post.

Rmss said...

First of all; welcome to this blog!

Well, try to make at least a decision you want to go for. Combining accents is normally not a wise thing to do.

In each case; it's great that you at least want to sound like a native, or near to it. I've seen so many people neglecting their accent, that it actually made me sad.

Maybe I'll post more about accents in the future.

Graham said...

First of all, let me congratulate you on your blog; I am really enjoying reading it, and there is a lot of useful information here.

As this post is concerned with pronunciation and accents, I thought you might be interested to see this compilation of audio samples of native Spanish speakers from around the world:

Rmss said...

Thank you for your comment!

And thank you for the link aswell, it's a very extensive post. Don't have time to read it now, but certainly will do it tomorrow! This will also come in handy for a future post about accents.