Full of enthusiasm and hope for a better future, I started to learn English before coming to the USA. I saw the source of the abilities for my professional path in a foreign country. I was working really hard, and six hours of courses a week was not my limit. I was practicing to change my Chinese English accent, suggesting that my work would be rewarded with a high evaluation on IELTS.
A change Chinese to English on my smartphone, the long hours of education, and efforts in learning were not fruitless. I was able to read in English, write properly to be understood (at least in the comments to the videos on youtube), and English songs got the meaning for me. The problem I was not attentive enough was my pronunciation.
“R” and “L” were clearly different at reading but still could be mixed in my speaking. Consonants appeared and disappeared in the endings by themselves, even though I was were they supposed to be and were not. Long story short – I failed my IELTS and got the lesson about the need for accent training.
The Power of Accent
If you are expecting to see here the history of success and waiting for me to tell you that I got rid of my Chinese accent and have brilliant speaking, that you would not differ from a native speaker, I’ll disappoint you.
No, I did not. I worked on my pronunciation and got into a USA college. But you still can clearly understand from my accent where I am from, as well as from the features of my face.
Let’s be honest, if only you are not presented as a Harvard graduate student of English linguistics major, no one is expecting you to talk without an accent. Even those to whom you pass IELTS, TOEFL, or any other English test.
People expect you to have general American English or British English pronunciation, good enough to be clearly understood.
Yes, it is difficult because English and Chinese are different. Because English has “th” which is challenging for all non-native speakers, not only Chinese but people from other countries as well. As if it is not enough, this brilliant thing has two ways to sound. But sorry, I’ll stop complaining and start talking about solutions.
Why Are Apps and Websites NOT the Solution?
I think that if you are there, I don’t need to teach you how to google. The internet is full of websites to learn English, and it’s enough for you to get into the App Store, Play Market, or whatever you have to find dozens of apps to learn the language. Some of them can even promise you help in mastering the American accent. And if your goal is to learn the language on your own, just because you have such a desire, it can really work.
But if your goals are more serious and limited in time, you can think about all of that apps and websites only as additional resources. They can give you some base, they can be a good background to support the development of your skills.
You need a tutor who will see your problems and help to fix them. The best option, of course, is a native speaker.
But we all know that their service can be very expensive, and hence, an experienced tutor who is focused on accent learning is also an option.
But Additionals are still Needed
Let’s pretend that you found the best tutor who is teaching you English and helps with American accent training. You can limit yourself to that, but it will not be the best decision. Language, like many other things in our life, is a skill. You can work on developing it even when you are not with the tutor or working on your homework. The more you practice, the better your skill is. Even something as simple as giggling at English memes or listening to music can improve your final result.
Listening to the language helps you to improve your listening skills, which is important. It also improves your speaking, even though you might not repeat after the singer or speaker. You could hear about such a thing as a language environment. It’s where you will come to if you are going to get foreign education. When you are surrounded by a new language, you will start to learn it faster. And even though you cannot create an artificial English language environment in your hometown, you can try to make something close to such an environment for yourself.
How to Sound Natural?
You have two main problems. The first is the Chinese accent in English. Don’t forget about the thing I told you earlier – no one expects you to have perfect pronunciation without even a shade of an accent. But it is your ability to make your speaking really good. Learn and practice tongue twisters – they help to distinguish sounds and improve your pronunciation. Listen to the music, especially songs that repeat in your head – it’s useful to remember how words are pronounced, and not only the words but phrases and even language constructions.
Constructions and stable phrases are the second problem that you can have, and things that can help you to sound more natural. All languages have stable phrases and constructions that people are using and don’t even notice. Listening to music and watching movies and videos on youtube can help you to become familiar with such phrases. It must not be something complex and, honestly, out of date like “raining cats and dogs” but something short and bright like “cut to the chase”.
Don’t be Afraid
We all are afraid before the tests, even though we know that stress does not help us to pass better. Do all possible to feel comfortable. Try to sleep the day before the test enough. Don’t refuse your breakfast (and lunch as well, if your test is in the second half of the day). You can offer people with whom you are waiting for your turn to speak English to have some practice before the test is started. Repeat your favorite tongue twisters (I believe that you will be good enough to have such ones).
And remember, the Chinese English accent is not a problem. The problem is the additional nerves that you don’t have to have. You can make the lesson and work on your mistakes from every failure. But try to relax, and believe in yourself. And speak – not too fast, not too slow, just calmly and with self-confidence.