Why Your Fake French Accent is Probably Terrible.

How’s your fake French Accent?

If it’s pretty terrible, maybe you are not musical enough. Researchers in Austria and Britain say your ability to fake an accent depends more on musicality rather than working memory.

A beret doesn't reduce your accent
Just wearing a beret won’t do the trick.

Does this mean you need to be musical to pronounce your second language accurately? No, but those that are appear to have a head start.

In a study released this year by the University of Warwick and The University of Vienna, it was found that musical ability not working memory capacity or predicts accent accuracy when faking a second language.

25 Germans were asked to speak with a fake French accent while speaking German.
They also had to do a music perception test, rate their singing ability and complete a memory test. The musical participants were the most accurate at faking the French accent. Memory skills gave no advantage.

The musicians appeared to have a super efficient ability to integrate phonetic information to replicate foreign sounds with more accuracy.

Perhaps this is another reason to develop your kids’ musical skills in early childhood. Musical ability may set up your kid for a clearer accent when they come to learn new languages.

Why is it hard for people to copy accents accurately?

It is really challenging to make the sounds of a language when it is not your mother tongue. This is because we perceive new speech sounds only through the sounds we have and know. Unlike children, adults are not gifted with the ability to mimic sounds and speak our new languages “accent free”. Our brains are simply nowhere near as elastic. A lot of this comes down to neuroplasticity and the stages of brain development required for children to develop speech patterns.

Do you have to be musical to reduce your accent?

You probably think it is impossible to change your accent. If you’ve tried to fix your English, Hungarian or even Korean pronunciation on your own no doubt it didn’t work. Pronunciation correction is not something you can do alone.

being musical helps with accent reduction
Musical skill does help with accents but it is not the only thing

Wait… How do Speech Pathologists help with pronunciation? Don’t they just work with kids?

No, thank goodness. We don’t all work with kids. Many speech pathologists spend all their working hours with adults. Speech pathologists are qualified to assist with communication based therapy across the lifespan. We don’t just play on the floor correcting kids with lisps all day! Some speech pathologists, like us, develop advanced proficiency in the phonetic alphabet, the code for pronunciation sounds. At Voice Science™ we spend most of our day assisting internationals with English communication, accent reduction training and pronunciation strategies.

Using research based speech pathology methods, we apply our skills in accent reduction training to show how differentiate between “shit” ahem excuse me, and “sheet.”

We are not English language teachers. We are speech and language therapists equipped with Master degrees in how the brain plans, processes and creates language. Our skills extend to not just understanding phonetics like someone might with a linguistics major, but to neuroscience and principles around how to deliver behaviour therapy that puts a sound goal in place efficiently. The process involves the right amount of feedback, instruction and measurement to progress the goal. We call this speech therapy.

Your speech pathologist at Voice Science™ will project management the production and stabilisation of pronunciation sounds and understand all the steps needed to strengthen goals from inside the clinic room at the first creation of the correct sound, through to strategies for how to progress your practice to pronounce “spreadsheet” the way it should be said in the meeting room in front of your colleagues. Because, hey, no one wants to “spreadshit.” Enough already!

French accent reduction training
Speaking with a French accent is going to be easier for this French native than the rest of us. Learning any accent takes hard work.

So this means I can lose my accent completely! Yay! Sign me up yesterday!

Hang on cowboy! Our qualifications come under the umbrella of Communication Science. We aren’t unicorns so we will be scientific and transparent with you. Here’s the hard, cold, facts:

Many of our clients move their accents closer to a native English target.

Will you sound Australian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Russian?

You tell me.

If you practice and work hard you may sound closer.

If you don’t practice, nothing will change.

So I just need to watch to lots of Australian TV shows to sound Australian, right?

Sorry to rain on your parade. But here we go. We hope you have an umbrella. Listening and copying sounds will never work. Research shows that you are going to copy with the same mistakes you already make.

But hang on! That makes sense! This is why I can’t copy my workmates’ when they show me how to say “Spreadsheet” not “spreadshit!”

So if I my friends can’t teach me how to pronounce sounds, why can Voice Science™ clinicians help me?

Choose your friends well. They should be supportive and fun and all the good things. If your friends know the phonetic alphabet, the muscles and nerves of the head and neck for speaking and voice, and therapy principles behind sound correction and they can’t show you how to correctly say “sheet” instead of “shit,” sack them.

Oh, your friends aren’t speech pathologists! Maybe you need to give us a call. We can’t be your friends, it’s totally against our code of practice and ethics and all kinds of client privacy laws. But we can be your speech pathologists and use our scientific know how to give you the information you need to change your sounds and start the uphill climb of daily practice for correct English pronunciation.

What is the best accent reduction training for adults?

Research shows that adults need to be shown the anatomical production differences of sounds in the second language. If you know how to shape target sounds with your mouth, where your tongue is, and what kind of jaw position or lip shape you need you have hit first base! Speech pathologists are great at showing sound positioning because we are trained in all the muscles, nerves and structures of the head and neck. We also have a strong understanding of how the brain processes and creates language, voice, speech and even swallowing (it uses the same muscles and nerves as for speech). We are like the plumbers of communication problems!

Research shows immersion in your target accent community alongside explicit pronunciation training with a basis in phonetics will benefit your accent acquisition.

Got questions about accent reduction training at Voice Science™? Launch this query form.

Accent reduction training takes time and practice. It is not uncommon to still have an accent even after years of expatriate life. An accent can be an asset that sets you ahead. Listeners soon realise you are multi-lingual. Sometimes an accent can interfere with your message. Speech breakdowns can occur and it can be harder to express thoughts clearly to your listener. Don’t give up! Work on your pronunciation weaknesses strategically and practice daily to improve your English.

Many non-native speakers opt to consult with a Speech Pathologist to reduce the impact of a foreign accent.

Voice Science™ treats from Melbourne to Bangkok, New York, Sydney, Perth … wherever you are via our global service. 
This is Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez
Sarah is the chief of Voice Science™ and one of those people who can never have enough books.
Words by Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez, chief speech pathologist at Voice Science™

References

Coumel, M., Christiner, M. and Reiterer, S. (2019). Second language accent faking ability depends on musical abilities not working memory. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00257

Lord, G. (2010). The combined effects of immersion and instruction on second language pronunciation. Foreign Language Annals, 43 (3). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1944-9720.2010.01094.x

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Call Now Button