When I speak to a new client about accent reduction, this is THE question that comes up the most. And it makes sense! Now that you have decided to change something about yourself, you are eager to get going, and you want to see and hear some results. Even more so if you have made an investment in lessons or practice materials.
The easy answer would be to say ’You will lose your accent in 12 weeks’ or some other easily defined time - and sometimes that’s true - but I want to take the time here to provide a more nuanced and thorough answer.
The accent you currently speak with involves patterns of muscle usage that began when you were a baby. Even before you learned to speak, your brain began the complex process of classifying sounds. You listened for specific things, such as: What sounds are repeated? What sounds have meaning? What do those meaningful sounds seem to represent? Can I reproduce those sounds? What I make certain sounds/ combinations of sounds, how do others respond?
Each language has it’s own vocabulary of sounds. Some sounds are common to several languages, and some are unique to only one, such as the english TH sound.
Each language also has an oral posture, a way of using the muscles of the face, lips, tongue and jaw. This posture is influenced by the sounds that make up the language, and the surrounding culture. Any time that a muscle is habitually used to behaving in a certain way, it takes very good physical awareness, and consistent repetition to change it. For that reason…
Accent reduction takes practice. This is common sense. But pause for a moment and really let that knowledge sink in. Changing your accent will take specific, committed, daily practice over time. This is often easier said than done. It may help here to think about your lifestyle, and what would work best for you. Do you like learning in an auditiory way? Perhaps a program which includes audio practice materials would work for you. Do you have a commute to and from work when use of the audio material could easily fit into your life?
Or perhaps you are a visual learner. For you, diagrams and videos of exactly how sounds are made, might be useful. Or perhaps using a color coded chart to map the vowels could help.
Practice must be specific. There is little value in repetition unless you know that the sound you are repeating is accurate. This is when it helps to get feedback from an outside ear - be it a coach, or a native speaker that you trust. If you haven’t got anyone to give you feedback, recording yourself and playing it back may help.