Can I Get Rid of My Accent Completely?

how do I get rid of my accent?First things first – everyone has an accent!  I bet you didn’t realize that.  But it’s true.  You may find when you are learning a new language that your accent gets in the way.  When this happens you begin to think “How can I get rid of my accent?”

The simple answer is “You can’t.”   You can’t get rid of it completely, but you can make your errors seem less noticeable.  That’s where accent modification lessons can help.  With accent modification lessons (also called accent reduction or English pronunciation training) you often work with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) specially trained to teach you how to speak American English like a native speaker.

Your teacher will emphasise correct pronunciation of American English sounds, words stress and sentence stress, linking sounds together in running speech, common reductions, and the melody and intonation patterns that will help you to sound more American.

What’s your part?  You need to spend focused time listening and imitating American English.  One quick way to get a handle on an American English accent is to mimic an American speaking your language.  This is called reverse accent mimicry. Just speak your language the way you may have heard an American speak it – by mimicking an American accent while speaking your language, you will trigger areas of your brain that control speech learning and accent.  Then make these same sounds when speaking American English.  You should see an improvement.

Work one-on-one with an SLP who has been specially trained in accent modification.  The most well-known national certification is Compton’s PESL course (pronouncing English as a Second Language).  An SLP, with a PESL certification, is the best teacher to provide direction and feedback as you learn the expected American English accent.

Try accent reduction books with CDs.  If you are an auditory learner the recordings will be helpful, and if you are a visual learner, read along in the book while you listen. One of my favorite self-study books is Lisa Mojsin’s Mastering the American Accent.

Set a goal for yourself.  You could select one sound.  Many speakers from Asian countries can improve R (made in the back of the mouth) and L (made near the front of the mouth).  Spanish and Persian speakers can improve TH sounds by placing the tongue between the teeth.  Find out your challenging sounds and try to improve them on purpose.

Let friends or co-workers know that you are working on improving your accent.  Many Americans are too polite to correct words someone is pronouncing wrong, but if you let them know you want their feedback, I’m sure they will be happy to provide that.

Good luck with your accent learning,  and keep up the good work!

Tools for Pronouncing American R

At ESL class this week, I surveyed some of my Asian students and asked them to say an American R and to say an American L. What happened was fascinating…

Here’s how it went, as I worked with 1 student in the class. Sunny (not her real name) said L and it sounded like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth. Then Sunny said R and it sounded exactly the same, like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth. I asked her to make a Chinese (Mandarin) L and once again she made exactly the same sound, like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth! With all these sounds being so alike, it’s no wonder people are having a hard time understanding Sunny’s English!

How to fix this problem:

Placement for American R1. I taught the students how American L is made by putting the tongue tip on the bumpy ridge behind the upper front teeth (the alveolar ridge). This is the front of the mouth. Then I taught how American R is made by putting the tongue back and sides against the skin above the back upper teeth. This is the back of the mouth. Here’s a drawing to show the place the tongue should go for R. No, I’m not a very good artist, so just humor me about how I draw a mouth and teeth! Thanks.

2.  Calling it “American R” or “English R” is very helpful for students to make a different  sound than R or L in their native language.

Pronouncing American R3. Also I had students rub a toothette on the skin above their back inside upper teeth. This added proprioceptive input, and helped them to feel where they should put their tongue for American R. Five students rubbed, then lifted their tongues back to those spots, and pronounced a perfect American R sound! Some of them were saying a correct American R for the first time ever!

4. Last we did minimal pair drills with R and L using read/lead, rock/lock, right/light, and final R’s using ear, or, ire, air, are. Minimal pairs should be practiced with similar sounds together first (all the R words together) and then practiced with contracting sounds.

Hope this helped.  Keep up the good work, teaching and learning English!



R and L Minimal Pairs Practice

R_l_minimal_pairs_ESL_Pronunciation_classes_SanJoseCALearning the difference between American R and L will help you improve your American English pronunciation.

American L is made by tapping the tip of your tongue to the alveolar ridge (this is the bumpy spot right behind your inside top front teeth.  In English we make 4 sounds here.  The sounds are T, D N, and L.  You can practice these sounds by singing a little song with these sounds, like this:

ta ta ta

da da da

na na na

la la la.

Or  by singing a familiar song, like Happy Birthday, using just one sound.  Imagine Happy Birthday with only the sounds, “La – la la, – la  – la  – la…”

American R is made with the tongue pulled back and high into the roof of the mouth.  Usually we push the sides of our tongue against the upper back teeth on the right and on the left.  Sometimes  the R can be made with a curled tongue tip, also.

If R is hard for you, as it is for most English learners, practice R words along with L words in sets of minimal pairs.  Those are words that are almost completely alike, except for one sound, such as “read/lead” or “right/light”.

Here’s a free printable of R/L minimal pair words for practice.  This word list is from