How to speak like a native.

Thanks to Susanna Zaraysky who sent me this.  Time reviews a book, in an article called “How to speak like a native”, about achieving native fluency, which basically seems to concur that this is a futile goal, and which debunks the accent reduction industry at the same time. I think we can get close, if we pay attention, but close is all we should aim for. Some will get closer than others.

I spoke to a lady here in Vancouver, yesterday, who has lived here for 40 years and speaks excellent but heavily accented English. Could she improve? I think so if it really mattered to her. If she really tried to notice the difference between her accent and some model of how she would like to speak. But she has to want to do this, has to choose a model, and has to learn to notice the differences.

Having a model, wanting to speak like that person, listening and repeating, these are all useful activities. Learning the IPA, looking at diagrams of your mouth, and comparing your results to some graph of the sound waves, are, in my view, much much less useful.

6 comments on “How to speak like a native.

Edward Chien

Mouth diagrams and sound waves AND listening and repeating were both important parts of me acquiring credibly native accents in Russian and Spanish. Listening and repeating went a long way, but there were a few issues that I don’t think I would’ve been able to sort out without a solid understanding of phonetics.

Izzie XU

Try recording your own voice and compare with the model and then practice, repeat.I did that and it works well!The software I used is CooleditI still remember the time when I practise English for 3-4 hours per day … hard work but totally worth it!


I used to see a Russian teacher once a week who was adament that I learn to pronounce Russian as a Russian. Oddly, prior to meeting her, people only told me I had a Czech accent (I had learned Czech earlier), which to me didn’t seem so bad. She went as far to say that with my accent, I wasn’t even speaking Russian. Ow.Her solution to this malady were tongue twisters, which were fun, but with the focus on how I moved my mouth. I was training my mouth muscles to work in a new way. This went on for several weeks. The rolling of the R was easy. I learned the serious differences between soft and hard sounds, palatizations, the difference between sh and shch sounds, nailing down that y (versus i) sound (sorry, it’ll take to long to find these letters in Cyrrilic).I know this was of benefit, because I’d never been made conscious of these distinctions before. I was mimicking what I was hearing, but this filled in the gaps. So afterwards, no one thought I was Czech anymore, now just an American kid of Russian parents. I guess that was an improvement?So, I concur. It’s nice to try to do, but maybe overrated. It is frustrating to me, though, in any language, when the accent is so thick that I can’t understand. And I think that at least striving for that "native" sound, as unobtainable as it is, addresses that. Maybe?

Izzie XU

haha.It is very unobtainable.. I think if you work hard enough, you can achieve around 90% native accent …that’s realistic and it already sounds good.The rest should be paying attention to wording and terms.Once you have the whole package you’ll sound native ! lol

Agreed, I actually prefer to keep a bit of an accent in a language that I’m learning, because….because I’ve found that the girls like it ;)Can’t get much of a better reason than that, can you?I’ve thought about this before and the only possible scenario I’ve come up with where someone would really have a genuinely good reason for wanting to sound JUST like a native would be if they were a clandestine intelligence officer, a spy. The only people I can see seriously teaching this (how to sound like a native) are the federal alphabet agencies (CIA primarily, NSA, and FBI since they deal with terrorism a lot).Cheers,Andrew

Izzie XU

Can agree more. To sound 100% like native requires high talent! It is just like singing, not everybody could do well through training, lol. So not everybody could be a spy….

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