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FAQ

Can I really change my accent?

Yes, you absolutely can change your accent. The question is how much you can change it, and if you can remember to keep making the changes in a real conversation. This depends on your motivation and commitment, as well as your flexibility and willingness to change. How you speak is a very personal issue, and changing it can make you uncomfortable for a while, as you may feel that changing your speech is changing YOU.

How long does it take?

Generally speaking, you will start to see real change after about three months, definitely by six months. Sorry, if you were hoping to hear ten minutes!

Does it matter what my original language is?

Yes and no. In terms of intonation and phrasing, all foreign speakers start out with very little in common with American English. In terms of pronunciation, however, there are definite areas of overlap which can be used to your advantage. For tips and techniques on your individual language, send me an email noting your native language, and I will send back detailed info on your particular language.

Can I keep part of my original language?

This is a big concern for many people. However, you will keep ALL of your original language. You will never lose your "Frenchness" or "Japaneseness", just as I will never lose my essential "Americanness".

I've only been studying English for a short time, where should I start?

For a beginner, I would start with children's books and cassettes such as Dr. Seuss' Hop On Pop. This will teach you the basic sound/letter correlation with an exaggerated intonation pattern. Hop on Pop should sound like [häp än päp] or, with the word connections, [hä pän päp]. The grammar is simple enough not to pose a problem.

I've been studying English for a long time, what should I do now?

It is a little more difficult for a long time student of English because you have old habits that need to be broken. If you are using American Accent Training, focus on the intonation patterns in Chapter One and the word connections in Chapter Two. Study them in the book, and listen for them in real life. When you watch TV or listen to the radio, focus on the delivery rather than the content. Practice writing down the real sounds that you hear, as opposed to the proper spelling of the words. In effect, you will be having to rewrite the entire script of English that you are currently using.

People won't correct me when I am speaking. What can I do?

Not much, I'm afraid. It's very difficult for a native speaker to correct a foreign speaker. They don't know where to start and they definitely don't know when to stop! Should they correct your vocabulary? Your pronunciation? Your intonation? Your grammar? Your ideas? Your personality? You can see what a sticky web it becomes!

Won't people laugh at me if I put on an American accent?

Well, English people might (for some reason, they find our accent a source of great amusement), but Americans won't notice that you are putting an accent on. They'll just think you're "talking right".

What does standard American English mean? Aren't there a lot of dialects in America?

Yes, there are, but there is also a generic "American sound" that transcends regions. It is that common sound that is standard in America (think Michigan rather than New York or Texas)

I have been taught British English. How is American English different from British English?

Well, we use a lot of the same words . . . but we say them differently. The speech music of the two languages is very different, which means that there are often misunderstandings in conversation on an emotional level -- the words will be clear, but the underlying feeling may be misconstrued. Also, the jazzy American intonation influences pronunciation, and lets us slide over some sounds such as T that would be sharply pronounced in British English, as in water or letter. The R and O are different, as well.

Which is more important, grammar or accent?

Hmmmmm, so who do you like better, your mom or your dad? This is a commonly asked question, but it's not really an either/or situation. Grammar complex grammar and accent go hand in hand, so to speak.

I thought that after 12 years old it was impossible to learn a new accent.

Children learn a language apparently effortlessly (it's not effortless, of course) for several reasons. First of all, because they are not as reading-oriented as an adult, they listen for the right things. Instead of wondering "how to spell it", they repeat back EXACTLY what they hear — rhythms and pronunciation, regardless of spelling. Second, children are more willing to make mistakes. Adults don't want to embarrass themselves, they don't want to look foolish, they don't want to appear ignorant, so they stick with what they know. Third, children aren't as "invested" in their original language as an adult might be — children are more willing to accept different ways of thinking, and different ways of saying things. All of which is to say that while a child may just "pick up" a native sounding accent, an adult can do the same thing (with a little extra work).

Is this slang?

No, of course not. Standard American English pronunciation is different from spelling, but it is not slang.

How can I study on my own?

There are several options open to you. First, you can check out the other on-line resources available, including Toastmasters International. When you are ready to start sharpening your hearing skills, other than in conversation or at Toastmasters, I recommend Books On Tape. This way, you can hear the words being spoken in a professional and interesting way, while at the the same time, reading along with them. This reinforcement is great for adults who really, really want to SEE the words, but really, really need to HEAR them. Read through the book with the tape, then once you are familiar with the story and the vocabulary, put the book down and really listen to the words.

 
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