I used to have an accent. I didn’t mind the accent itself, what bothered me was constantly being judged by strangers. If you have an accent too, I’m sure you’ve noticed that you are being treated differently than your friends who are native English speakers. Anybody who judges people with accents probably doesn’t even mean to. It’s mainly a subconscious thing and, of course, labeling people with accents as unsophisticated isn’t limited to the United States; it happens in every part of the world. Growing up in another country I used to stereotype people with accents too and it probably wasn’t different wherever you grew up.
Understandably, almost everyone working and living in the US would like to be able to speak without an accent, but relatively few people succeed. Effects of accent reduction programs are rarely immediate, so most students give up the battle against the accent shortly after having started. So, first of all you need to have the right attitude. Try to avoid saying things like “I’m too old to work on my accent now.” or “Who cares whether I have an accent or not?” Yes, getting rid of an accent gets increasingly difficult as you get older, but it’s most certainly not impossible. No matter how old you are, it will require a big effort and a great deal of determination.
There are three key steps that are essential to anybody’s success when getting rid of an accent. In the end, how successful you will be and how long it will take depends on the time you are willing to invest and how open you are to changes.
First, you need to accept that reducing or eliminating your accent has affects on your whole life. It’s crucial that you step out of the comfort zone and realize that you need to make new friends and surround yourself with as many English speaking people as possible. Take advantage of the fact that you live near thousands of native speakers. Go out there and socialize with them. This is what most people fail to realize, you cannot expect your accent to go away if everybody around you speaks your mother tongue and you rarely even speak English.
Then, speaking English as much as possible is a pretty obvious step. All the books you read and the hours you work on your accent won’t be of any use unless you go out there and talk to people. Remember that mistakes are part of the learning process, so don’t be ashamed to mispronounce things. Keep talking and you will see your English improving very quickly. Also, tell all your friends and family that you want them to speak English with you. This is very helpful, especially in the beginning, since you already feel comfortable talking with them.
Last but not least, an often overlooked factor is how important active listening is. By carefully paying attention to what native English speakers around you are saying, you will not only learn lots of new terms, but also learn the correct pronunciation of words. If you don’t have many English speaking friends yet, you can watch TV and listen to the radio which will basically give you the same results.
Whether you already have some experience in eliminating your accent or you’re just getting started, these basic rules should be a big help. Naturally, you’ll have to find out yourself what methods and exercises work best for you. I advice you to talk to people who have successfully eliminated their accents. I’m one of those lucky few and my friends are often surprised at how simple the things are that I did to get rid of my accent. Give all the methods and exercises that sound right for you a try and stick with what works best – that’s how I succeeded.
Patrick Bilson, Author of the ebook Eliminate Your Accent