Want To Master a New Language? Here’s How To Learn Accents With These 7 Tips

Want To Master a New Language? Here’s How To Learn Accents With These 7 Tips


Updated on 15th June, 2022

Knowing how to learn accents is part and parcel of one’s journey to becoming fluent in a language. Here’s how to learn an accent effectively with 7 proven tips.

How to learn an accent and master it for good

Have you ever searched the lyrics for a song, only to feel disappointed when you read them? Sometimes the beauty of a song isn’t only in the words, but in the music itself. The rise and fall of the melody, the blend of instruments and voices, the unexpected high notes held until you think the singer might pass out all of these elements can help bring a song to life.

The same is true of language. When we’re learning a language, it’s easy to focus only on words and grammar after all, there are always more grammar rules and vocabulary to memorize! But learning the words of a language without understanding its natural melody is like learning a song without music. You might understand it, but you are missing the full experience. Which explains why it’s essential to know how to learn accents to help you master your target language, speak comfortably, and get your message across as clearly as possible.

When I listen to a speaker of an unfamiliar language, the words themselves can seem meaningless. But if I focus on the speaker – the way they move their lips, the small inflections in their voice, the way they elongate one vowel and clip off another – I am able to absorb the language in a way that I never could otherwise.

This is why finding out how to learn accents – the musical undertones of a language – is so important. And while some may feel that developing a good accent is not worth their time, there are many arguments to suggest otherwise.

Before we go on, allow me to remind you that Fluent Forever’s 4-Step Method prioritizes pronunciation as the starting point when learning any language. Simply download the Fluent Forever app to get practicing the sounds of your target language right now. Secondly, check out our guide to the fastest way to learn a language to help you along on your journey.

Why bother with how to learn accents?

Accents are more than just a way of speaking. They are a connection to culture. Where you live in the world and even in your own country colors your accent.

How successfully you manage to learn a native accent changes the way you communicate with others and the way that others communicate with you. How often have you started a conversation in your target language only to be immediately recognized as a foreigner? It’s difficult to practice a new language when your listeners keep switching to English!

An ill-fitting accent can also create an invisible barrier between speaker and listener. When you learn to speak a language in tune, you will quickly find that people respond more positively. Conversations lengthen and deepen, and your confidence grows. By taking the time to learn not only what people say, but how they say it, you will expand your experience of a place and its people immeasurably.

If this doesn’t seem like incentive enough, consider this:

Learning your target language with the correct accent actually allows for faster learning and easier memorization.

Pronunciation is a separate skill, much like reading, speaking, or vocabulary acquisition. With the right tools, you can learn to pronounce a word without even knowing what it means.

So how do you learn an accent in a new language?

Here are 7 tips to get you talking in tune!

1. Start by learning the phonetic alphabet, or IPA

In the early stages of learning a language, teaching your mouth to pronounce sounds can pay huge dividends. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA),  our Fluent Forever pronunciation videos and tutorials, and our app can get you off to a good start. 

Each letter in the IPA represents not only a sound, but a method of producing that sound. Learning a new language, with its unknown vowel and consonant sounds, can seem daunting. But consider this: almost all consonants and vowels are produced by taking familiar lip and tongue positions and just recombining them in slightly new ways.

Learning the phonetic alphabet will help you nail that accent!
Image by Nothing Ahead from Pexels

For instance, many ‘new’ French vowel sounds are just familiar tongue positions from English, with rounded lips. What you’ll discover is that an old mouth really can learn old tricks and get hold of how to learn accents in your target language, as long as you have good guidance along the way.

2. Be a shadow to familiarize yourself with the spoken language

As children, we all learned to speak our native tongue by listening to others around us and copying the sounds they made. While this is probably the most organic way of learning a language, it’s almost impossible to replicate the learning environment we had in infancy. This is why linguist Alexander Arguelles developed a technique known as shadowing.

Shadowing involves finding an auditory resource in your target language, like an audiobook or a textbook with an audio component, and using it to master the sounds of a language. Rewiring your ears in this way sounds like the perfect plan for how to learn accents quickly and successfully. 

The process involves several steps:

i. Listening to an audio recording while repeating the words aloud
ii. Listening to and repeating the same recording while simultaneously reading a transcription of the text

By performing these steps multiple times, you can begin to feel the flow of the language while achieving more accurate pronunciation. (Arguelles suggests walking while talking, maintaining good posture, and speaking loudly and clearly to maximize focus and learning). Consider reading out loud to complement your shadowing activity, too!

3. Watch and learn from native speakers 

Immersing yourself in a language is a surefire strategy for absorbing its accent and rhythm. When you have an opportunity to chat with a native speaker, avoid listening passively. Instead, study the way their mouth moves, the way they string syllables together, their gestures and facial expressions. If you don’t have the luxury of meeting in person, try using italki or another live tutoring site.

Work with a qualified language coach

If you lack the self-motivation to stay on track and need someone to help you on your language learning journey, a personal language coach is a perfect match

Other reasons to work with your very own tutor include being unimpressed by the language classes available out there, or feeling nervous about talking with native speakers. A coach can personalize the 1-on-1 sessions so that the content you cover is interesting and relevant to you. Secondly, the individual attention and support you receive will help you fix any common errors you make in your pronunciation, boosting your confidence to nail those accents as a result.

At Fluent Forever, we’ve designed Coaching programs that can be tailored to every learning level and need. If you want to stay motivated and see real results, consider partnering up with an expert language coach to teach you how to learn accents and much more.

4. Lights, camera, action! Play a character 

Many of the world’s finest actors are incredibly shy. By pretending to be someone else, they are able to shed their inhibitions. Embrace your inner polyglot performer! Try mimicking some of the native speakers you’ve encountered in person or through online tutoring sites. Wave your hands in the air, add in tiny colloquial filler words, and adjust your facial expressions.

Can’t think of what to say? Try talking about your life, the weather, sports – topics that frequently show up in “small talk” situations. It’s a great way to gain confidence and feel the language in your bones.

Here’s what Fluent Forever founder Gabe has to say about inhabiting a character to help with how to learn accents and language learning in general:

You’ve built your identity in your native language. If you’re trying to speak a new language with that same identity, then you feel like you’re missing pieces of yourself every time you can’t remember a word. As a result, you tend to become really shy and shut down.

But there’s an alternative: you can become someone else. You can channel a character from a telenovela, a pop-culture figure, or a childhood friend. And in the process of pretending to be someone else, you’ll find that a lot of your inhibitions fall away, and you suddenly unlock an ability to speak that you didn’t realize was there all along.

As I write in my book, Fluent Forever:

At times, a foreign language can feel like a mask. It’s a game of make-believe. You’re playing the role of “Some French Guy,” and you’re acting out a conversation with some friends. In these moments, you occasionally catch yourself saying things you never would have said in English. You’re more open. You speak more freely. After all, it’s not really you; it’s just a game.
But that’s not quite true.
It is you. 
And you can only meet that side of yourself in a foreign language.

5. Twist and shout

If you run into sounds that are difficult to pronounce – combinations that don’t exist in your native language, for instance – try backchaining. This is a truly effective technique for how to learn accents properly. Start by pronouncing the sound or syllable at the end of the word and gradually work your way back to the beginning, adding a letter or phoneme at a time. 

Check out our blog article on backchaining here to see how it works!

Tongue twisters are another great way to get your mind and mouth working in sync. They also work well with backchaining. Teaching your tongue to pronounce a sound creates muscle memory. In time, as you slip these sounds into longer words, you’ll find that your mouth will remember how to pronounce them, all on its own!

6. Sing your heart out, in the right accent!

Why settle for simply speaking new words when you can sing them? Learning to sing in your target language can be an effective way to learn accents and pronunciation, vocabulary, and the natural phrasing of a language. 

Try singing a song in your target language and repeating the lyrics until you can pronounce them perfectly. (Check your pronunciation with a tutor or native speaker). Music of any genre will work, but rap music offers a great opportunity to work on both speed and accuracy.

Shadowing can also be used effectively when working with music. Whenever possible, listen to a song first on its own, a second time while looking at the lyrics, and finally, sing along!

7. The early bird gets the accent

Most importantly, when it comes to how to learn accents, start early. In time, your speech patterns will fossilize, making them less amenable to change. A small quirk can eventually morph into a bad habit, bleeding into other words and grammatical structures. 

Take the time to listen to and learn the accents – the music of your language. It could mean the difference between a language symphony and a bad night of karaoke.

And that’s how you learn accents in your target language. Make sure to get those sounds right, and you’ll make good headway towards language fluency. Let us help jump-start your journey today: download the Fluent Forever app and join our private Live Coaching program today.