by Bruce Wilkinson
Learning a new language can be both fun and useful if you're planning a holiday or extended trip. But if you are emigrating or plan on teaching abroad, learning a language becomes absolutely vital to your well-being.
There's a lot of nervousness around accents. If we don't get an accent right it can be incredibly damaging to our self-confidence and actually detrimental to learning a language.
Once we have got a handle on accents not only do we overcome our shyness in speaking a language but we suddenly find we can understand native speakers much better. Here are a few tips on how to learn accents.
It is very important when learning a language to spend time listening to the formation of the words. All countries have their own regional accents, making it difficult to choose how to pronounce a certain word. As you learn a language, spend some time, not necessarily reading along with a dictionary, but just getting accustomed to vowels and consonants used.
Some language learners will sit and watch subtitled movies in order to get a notion of how accents can be used to dramatic effect. This is an excellent way to get to grips with accents as actors are trained with correct pronunciation.
It may also be useful to sit and listen to music in your chosen language. Again, like actors, singers have been trained in the use of their language, optimizing each word to sound as beautiful as it possibly can. It's also great fun to sing along and makes the work of language learning into an art form.
Whatever you listen to, whether its film, song or in person, give yourself the chance to notice the unique things about an accent, the stresses, and elongations of vowels and consonants.
As you listen you'll find it useful to move your mouth and tongue along with what you hear. If you find a good teacher, you can ask them to slow down each word so you can watch how their mouth moves as they pronounce things. Study a dictionary as you watch them, making sure that you've first got a handle on the phonetic alphabet, a tool which is invaluable to any language learner.
Once you've got the idea of how a sound particular to an accent is formed you can start teaching your own facial muscles and tongue to get around the sounds. As you form the words, you might like to keep a sound recorder handy, whether on your phone or computer and listen to yourself speaking in an accent side by side with a native speaker. This may be uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it becomes easier.
Imagine you are an actor on stage as you learn. It may help to stand in front of a mirror as you practice, so you can watch yourself as you form the words.
Most actors will start with tongue twisters, and this is a good technique for loosening up your facial muscles to get your mouth around those difficult to pronounce sounds. In fact, think about the physical gestures that might accompany particular words - acting out physically may well be a useful aid in psychologically cementing all that you are learning.
As you attempt the tongue twisters, slow them right down so you can break them down into their component parts. Learning an accent can be a very physical activity, as we are teaching our body to react to unusual stimuli. Therefore it's important to give yourself a chance to notice how your mouth and throat feel as you pronounce the words.
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