Must I speak with an accent to learn a new language?
It is always easy to pick out the non-native speaker from the native speaker – their accent. For example, the way Singaporeans speak Mandarin is very different from the way the Chinese speak Mandarin.
If you live in a country long enough, you might slowly start to adopt their accents. Conversely, there are those who live in a foreign country for an extended period of time but still speak their native accent with pride.
Is having an accent required to learn a new language, and will not having one slow down your progress? Let’s find out.
What is an accent and why do we have it?
An accent is a particular way of pronouncing a language in terms of tones and emphasis on certain words or certain parts of a word1.
But why do we have accents?
Accents come from our cultural history2. Take Singapore for example – we have a rich cultural history with individuals from many countries living here. Our accent is shaped by the influences in our lives and passed on to our children as we teach them how to speak.
Even Singlish has a mixture of English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and the other minority Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Cantonese, or Teochew.
Must I learn a new accent when I learn a new language?
Besides allowing us to level up in our careers, learning a new language has many advantages, such as:
- Making travellling easier
- Initiating conversations
- Forging close bonds
In that vein, it is not necessary to adopt an accent in order to master a new language – but you have to give each language the proper pronunciation and intonation they require.
Is it possible to sound like a native speaker without an accent?
Confidence is key when you’re using your newly learnt language either with a native speaker or trying to get around in a foreign country. You want to sound natural and smooth; one of the main things you can do is to think before you speak.
Figure out what you want to say, where you want to go and then speak with confidence. Think of all the times you ordered at the local hawker centre in Mandarin – the delivery might not be the best, but you got the message across.
Here are some other ways you can speak well and with confidence:
Think of the words salmon and almond, they are not pronounced the way they are spelled. For example, salmon is pronounced “seh-mon” and not “sal-mon”, almond is pronounced “ar-mond” and not “al-mond”. When learning a new language, it is always important to listen to how the words are pronounced while you read them.
Spend time with a native speaker
A native speaker will be able to guide you on how to perfect your pronunciation and phrasing of sentences. They can also teach you where the emphasis should be on a word or sentence and if there are any intonations you should look out for. Even better, a native speaker can even share local catch phrases or slangs that cannot be found in a textbook.
Realise that people with different accents pronounce the same words differently
Just because someone is a native speaker of a language, does not mean their pronunciation is the only one there is. Picture an American English speaker and a British English speaker, they pronounce the word “water” differently, but it means the same thing.
Native speakers and non-native speakers have different paces when speaking a language. Native speakers know when to take a break in a sentence, while non-native ones might not. These breaks might come across as minor; but they can make all the difference in ensuring a sentence sounds as natural as possible.
This is when two words are shortened into one, like the word “they’re” which means “they are”. Native speakers are more likely to shorten their words and use contractions.
Learn a new language confidently
Whether it’s conversing like a pro or simply holding basic conversations, learning a new language goes beyond mastery – it’s the unique, rewarding process that matters.
With the return of travel, now’s the best time to pick up a new language. Our group language classes are specially designed to help you learn at your own pace with the right amount of challenge.
Contact us to let us know what you’re looking for and us folks from Lingo School of Knowledge will be in touch as soon as possible.
- Collins English Dictionary. (2012). dictionary.com. Retrieved from accent: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/accent
- Matthews, R. (2022). BBC Science Focus. Retrieved from Why do people have accents?: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-do-people-have-accents/