How to learn a foreign accent

The best way to understand someone with a foreign accent is to speak the same way yourself.  

Written By Lucie Harrison

“The first thing to do when learning an accent is to find a native speaker of the language. So if you want to learn a French accent, get hold of a French person.

The next step is to get your hands on a set text that covers all the consonant and vowel changes within a language.

There are three main texts used by voice coaches – Arthur the Rat, The Rainbow Passage and Comma Gets A Cure. You then ask your native speaker to read the text out loud while you make a recording.

When you listen back, mark down all the differences between their pronunciation of each word, each consonant and vowel, and the way you would say it.

Record the answers to two or three questions about things that interest them so they become animated and begin speaking fluidly. You could ask about the place where they are from, or where they like to go on holiday, or their childhood.

Listening back to a recording of their answers will also help you get to grips with their pronunciation, but most importantly it will allow you to hear differences in the rhythm and resonance of their speech.

As they speak, watch their articulators at work. How do their lips, cheeks, jaw, tongue and teeth move as they enunciate each word?

You will notice that Scottish and Russian people sound more throaty because their tongue comes up to the back palate and pushes the resonance back as they speak.

British Received Pronunciation seems to move forward straight from the lips like a dart because the articulation causes lots of forward placement.

But Australian accents can sound nasal because the mouth does not open far.

After looking at your native speaker, look at yourself in a mirror as you speak and note the differences in facial movement.

Think about the origins of the language. Sometimes the geography of an area can affect an accent. Texas is very flat, so the Texan accent is very flat. Wales is very hilly, so the Welsh accent is lyrical and rolling, like the hills.

Finally, try speaking some words and sentences of the language whose accent you are trying to master and see how the pronunciation tastes and feels in your mouth. Speaking the language can help you learn the accent, and vice versa.”

Juliette Binoche
Juliette Binoche

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