- Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand
- Mastery is Mastering the Basics
- How To Speak Like A Native
- Language Is Acting
- How to Pronounce Japanese
- Where Not To Learn Japanese From
- How To Get A Specific Accent
- No Humans Necessary: Why You Don’t Need People to Learn a Language
- You Are What You Eat, You Write What You Read, You Speak What You Hear
- Success Story: Emotional Context Learning — Using Phrases Correctly Without Actively Learning Them Or Knowing What They Actually Mean
- Speaking: You Don’t Have A Linguistic Problem, You Have A Humanity Problem — Why You Still Suck At Speaking and How to Fix it Fast
- Luxurious Worries, Or: So Effing What If You Sound Like An Anime?!
- If Anime Is Bad For Your Japanese, Then Nursery Rhymes Are Bad For Your English
This is another comment that grew so long as to deserve its own article. First, the original question:
See, everyone is so discouraging when you learn a new language and say you’ll always ’sound like a foreigner’ and this is a bit depressing. I realize that certain speech patterns are set and all that but what would be your advice and aquiring an authentic accent (Japanese or any other language)?
And my response:
ACT. Pretend you ARE from that country. Pretend you’re that Jared kid from The Pretender, and that your life depends on you convincing people that you were born and raised in whatever country has native speakers of your language. Pick specific people (often, actors) to imitate and copy their mannerisms, look at the way their mouths are shaped, their hand gestures, the facial muscles they use. Be like a comedian doing impressions.
You stop being foreign when you stop believing you are foreign, at least in terms of the language. Hold yourself to the same standard as a native speaker — if someone had to talk to you on the phone, they shouldn’t be able to tell. Never fall for the excuse of “oh, it’s not my native language”. You needn’t be harsh on yourself, just always be looking for ways to improve.
I had a Japanese friend who self-taught English, and when I first met her I thought she was Japanese-American: it was that flawless. She told me she’d watched a lot of TV and movies, and had changed the way she acted and used her facial muscles and shaped her mouth when making sounds.
So, input and imitation. Input, because you have to hear a lot of examples not just of certain words, but certain COMBINATIONS or strings of words. Words change a bit when people shout, intonation changes based on emotion.
Also, pauses. Use the same pauses and bridges as native speakers. So, no “um” because “um” is English, find the equivalents of “um” and “uhhhuhhh” in the languages you are learning.
What else…YES! I call it “doping“. In semiconductor production, doping is the process of deliberately introducing impurities into an extremely pure material in order to obtain better/desired performance properties. In learning a language, doping is the process of almost “dumbing-down” or de-streamlining your spoken language by introducing inefficient elements that have function but no meaning, and serve to make it more natural and native-like. You see, foreigners, tend to learn from texts and textbooks. And text is much, much more efficient (“pure”) than speaking. In text you get straight to the point:
A) “This is an example”. [4 words, 0 long pauses]
But in speech, you amble zig zigzag-zag toward your point:
B) “Well, um, this is, like, an example or whatever…kind of, I dunno”. [13 words, 1 long pause]
Native speakers are wasteful and inefficient. This is why the Borg in Star Trek despise human communication. In my experience, native speakers use perhaps 2 or 3 times the number of words they “need”, and all that extra baggage has no lexical meaning. “Um” does not mean anything. “Like” does not really mean anything. It’s all just filler.
Make your speech more native-like by making it more wasteful — I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth. If you speak too plainly, without any flavor, you come out sounding robotic or just foreign (often both). Also, the wasteful pauses can help buy you time when you need to remember a specific word — you do this in your native language, too — you don’t remember a specific word or phrase, so you keep stringing words or phrases that are close to it in meaning and until you hit the jackpot. Examples:
A) “Is it like a wiki or a blog, or, like a CMS or something?”.
B) “I’ve never, like really had Japanese food, Or, I guess, been to a Japanese restaurant or whatever, at least on my own. I mean, I can, like, read the menu, but, um, you know, what’s actually inside it — the stuff, you know, the food, the tendon or whatever…Is what I want to know?”.
Not very good examples, but I think you get the point.
Finally, you want to swallow the words that native speakers swallow. For example, in Japanese, there is a word: 雰囲気. Technically, it should be pronounced “fun-i-ki”, but native speakers swallow it and say “fuinki”; I say it the garbled, native way.
Oh, one more thing: pick an accent. The easiest to pick is the standard accent since it tends to have the most materials produced in it. Either way, pick a focus: pretend the people who speak that dialect are your parents and classmates — functionally, they are.
Finally (for real), try recording yourself now and then. It can reveal where you need work. For more, try out these articles: