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Foreign Language Learning: Overcoming a “Foreign Accent"

written by: Rebecca Scudder • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

This article addresses the need to focus on correct pronunciation in the foreign language classroom in order to minimize "foreign accents" which can greatly impede communication. Students and educators alike can utilize several tools to increase correct pronunciation of the target language.

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    The Problem

    It’s not unusual for intermediate and advanced language learners, particularly those who are learning a second language in a classroom setting, to demonstrate above average grammar skills while simultaneously maintaining a strong “foreign accent." This can occur when instructors and students do not make correct pronunciation a priority. The good news is that with a little effort on the part of both language educators and language learners, the foreign accent can be greatly minimized.

    First of all, let’s look at the disadvantages of having a strong accent:

    1) A strong foreign accent can impede communication or lead to miscommunication.

    2) An accent has the potential of making the speaker’s message completely incomprehensible to listeners.

    3) A person with a strong foreign accent may often encounter certain negative cultural stereotypes that are connected with the accent.

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    Overcoming a Foreign Accent

    But overcoming a foreign accent is possible; here are some ways for students and educators alike to help minimize the incorrect pronunciation and word stress distribution that leads to non-native speech patterns:

    Students can:

    1) Participate in language practice groups that meet outside of the classroom and that include expert speakers and native speakers of the target language.

    2) Encourage their instructors to focus on pronunciation in the foreign language classroom and to provide constructive, individualized feedback as it relates to correct pronunciation.

    3) Supplement their classroom learning by utilizing text-to-speech software and other forms of computer-assisted language learning to aid them in correcting false pronunciation patterns.

    Educators can:

    1) Provide students with constructive, individualized feedback as it relates to correct pronunciation.

    2) Provide student access to as much native-speaker audio material as possible.

    3) Encourage target-language conversation among students and participation in language practice groups which meet outside of the classroom and are guided by expert and native speakers.

    4) Supplement classroom learning by providing access to computer-assisted language learning programs, which focus on correct pronunciation, intonation, and stress distribution.

    By making correct pronunciation a priority, foreign language learners can feel the confidence that comes with learning to speak like a native. And educators can know that they are doing all they can to create well-spoken second language learners.

    The most improtant tip is to simply practice speaking in the language as much as possible! Do you have any tips to share?