I bet your accent is fine.
I am a native English speaker, and one time I asked a French student how English sounded to him. He said it sounded “sexy.” I couldn’t believe it because we English speakers always equate French, Italian and Spanish accents to be the ones that are so attractive.
When I hear myself speak on a recording of some kind, I sound very nasal, harsh, and tough “New Yorkish.” And I’m not even from New York. In the US, people often guess that’s where I’m from. I tell them how I wish I could get rid of my accent, and the question that always arises is “Why?”
And that’s the question I’m going to ask you: Why? Why do you want to change your accent? First, I’m going to tell you why you should leave your accent alone, and then I’m going to tell you what to do if you really need or want to improve your accent.
If you are easily understood when you talk to native and non-native speakers of your new language, there’s no real reason for changing your accent.
Realize that your accent is most likely very charming to native speakers. In fact, many native speakers would gladly exchange your accent for theirs.
If you’re only doing it because you fear overt (open, apparent) or silent criticism or prejudice from native speakers.
Change it if:
You feel you don’t want people to automatically decide your origins from your accent, think about reducing it.
People find it difficult to understand you.
It bothers you that your children (who were born in your target language’s country) are embarrassed by your accent. Consider changing it, but only if you want to, also. Remember that one time or another, children will be embarrassed by their parents. You could learn the language with the best accent you can and that might still not be good enough for your kids.
Your boss requests that you improve your target language skills for work.
You just want to sound more like a native speaker because you...just want to.
Once an accent, always an accent.
Wrong. “Accents can be expected to change until we are in our early twenties,” says Damir Cavar of Ask-A-Linguist: What is an Accent
“But even after that, if you want (or need) to change your accent, you can.” But it does take a lot of willpower and real effort. You must continuously work on it even when you’re not consciously practicing it.
How to improve
The first step is self-confidence. Believe that you can do it. Ignore all the skeptics and people who say it can’t be done, says Lisa Stublic of Fluent-U. For some reason, you will encounter people who will tell you not to do it. And most of them are not native speakers of your target language.
Here are specific instructions for trying to improve your accent, according to Suzette Hayden Elgin of Ask-A-Linguist: What is an Accent? .
Get a cassette tape at least twenty minutes long of someone who speaks English with the accent that you would like to have. If you do this, it is choose recordings of someone of your own gender.
Listen to the entire tape all the way through once or twice just to become familiar with its content. Don’t write it down or try to memorize it.
Listen to a brief sequence — just a sentence or two. Rewind the tape to the beginning of that sentence.
Say the sentence aloud with the tape. Don’t repeat it after the tape as is done in traditional foreign language courses; speak with the speaker. Don’t worry about making mistakes, just do your best to speak simultaneously with the speaker.
Rewind to the beginning of the sentence and do this again. several times. (Ten times is not too many.)
Move to the next sentence and do the same thing.
Continue until you’ve worked your way through the whole tape, speaking with your chosen model speaker.
Accent reduction (or modification) is an intense “accent workout” that is performed with a professional trained to reduce your accent from a heavy one to a more acceptable one for you. It’s a good option if you don’t feel like gathering the materials yourself or need motivation to practice.
Generally, these professionals work on (deal with, do) accents rather than teach the language. You can take lessons with a tutor, in class or online--just like italki. Look up accent reduction practitioners online for help with your target language.
Make sure the program or tutor you us doesn’t promise 100 percent progress in eliminating your accent; that just isn’t reasonable and maybe not what you ultimately want. “The objective of our accent reduction programs [is to] eliminate language barriers while maintaining each person's unique cultural identity,” according to Accents International, LLC (for English).
When you consider whether or not you need to reduce or improve your accent, first think if it’s really necessary. Look for evidence that you should improve your accent, such as not being easily understood. Remember, that you can most certainly be respected with an accent. In many situations, an accent is an asset.
The most important thing to remember is this: your accent is part of who you are; it’s part of your identity.To erase it is equivalent to having plastic surgery to change a feature, which, maybe only you, worry about.
Ilene Springer is a longtime English tutor and writer for italki. She has taught English abroad, and has written for magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. She is the author of The Diary of An American Expatriate. Ilene lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico (US).