Teaching/learning pronunciation


What is the best way of teaching or learning to pronounce a second language, in your opinion? Some certainly just imitate native speakers while others decide to study phonetics in order to acquire a new accent. Which of these two approaches do you think is more successful?

I am personally inclined to think that a mixed approach is the best, that is, imitate native speakers with the accent you want (especially if you are a good mimic), but do not assume that untutored imitation alone will make your accent perfect. Of course, if you are a phonetician you can yourself be your own “tutor”.


What kind of an accent are you looking for? Do you want to acquire let’s say an American accent? Then you could watch Hollywood movies or listen to international programmes (radio, CNN etc). Or do you simply want to sound intelligible? You could try to listen to the BBC world service (for starters) and imitate the speaker.

Hi Ralf,

Who would be satisfied with merely sounding intelligible? Certainly you would aim at native-like pronunciation if you were learning a second language? That being said, I don’t think it’s enough for you to just imitate native speakers. If you do, you may well end up speaking with a near-native accent that may sound native-like to some but certainly not all native speakers. I think you need to study phonetics if you want to eradicate your foreign accent completely.


I don’t think that studying phonetics gives you a genuine accent. It definitely helps, but you need a lot of exposure to natural sounds and exercise in producing your own utterances in an authentic language environment.

There are two professors of linguistics at the University of Leipzig, Germany, whose pronunciation is very very good, but nowhere near any natural accent of the English speaking world. And then there are students who are trying very hard to sound American or English, and you almost buy it. Most of them have been studying abroad for a semester or two. And then there are people whose English is fairly mediocre, but they pick up an accent in a matter of months. Those people usually have no or little exposure to their native tongue. I once talked to a Polish waitress in Dublin of who I was sure she was from my area. It turned out she had been in the country for not even a year.

This is probably the only way to achieve a native-speaker-like performance. If a near-native-speaker-like performance is not good enough for you, you’d have to move to the country where your desired accent is spoken.

Hi Ralf,

I will have to disagree with this comment since I firmly believe you can eradicate your accent even if you do not live in a country where your target-accent is spoken. The thing is that even when your accent is very good and most people assume you are a native speaker there seem to be some people who can detect a slight foreign accent. Do you believe that it would be impossible for a phonetician to tell that the waitress you spoke to is in fact not a native speaker of English?


In my opinion there is only one way to get rid of your accent and adopt a genuine accent at the same time; that is by communicating with people from a country where the accent is spoken.

I’m sure in many cases it would indeed be “impossible for a phonetician to tell” whether an accent was adopted by a native speaker or not. A phonetician would have to employ a special computer software that compares phonographic curves to penetrate the speakers phonological performance. And then again, there are not only dialects but also sociolects and idiolects, so it would be very hard to unmask the speaker.

I suppose you could easily ask yourself how many times you have met someone who you took for a native speaker of your languauge. Probably not too many, but quite a few. Said waitress accent, for example, did not only sound impeccable to me, but also to my friends present at the table. So one should perhaps advice people to wait tables in order to acquire a good pronunciation. You can’t help but talk in this trade, can you :?

Hi Englishuser,

How important is ‘eradicating your foreign accent completely’ to you?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: The cycle race[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Ralf,

Listening, speaking and studying the sound system of your target-accent should do it. I don’t think you necessarily need a face-to-face interlocutor providing you have access to high quality audio materials and feedback from a trained phonetician.

Some people might like to acquire an accent that is fairly uncommon among native speakers because they simply don’t want to sound “just like everyone else”. Let’s assume that someone’s goal is to speak with an accent close to that of the Queen of England. Do you think you will end up sounding like the Queen if you talk to and imitate speakers of Estuary English or modern BBC English, for example? Probably not. But you can indeed learn to speak with an
upper-crust RP accent if you study the sound system of that accent and make
use of appropriate tape recordings.

A phonetician with a trained ear is likely to pick up on pronunciation slip-ups which the average native speaker ear ignores. It is the case that most “native-sounding” speakers of a foreign language have at least a “very slight” foreign accent. For how long did you talk to that waitress? Were you focussing on her pronunciation rather than what she was saying?


Hi Torsten,

I am pleased to see you have joined our discussion. Yes, speaking personally, I would be very eager to eradicate any evidence of my native language when learning to speak foreign languages. I don’t practise pronunciation because I would like to fool anyone; I do it because I am interested in phonetics, and the idea of being able to produce different sounds and intonation patterns accurately and in a native-speaker-like manner fascinates me. I am proud of my nationality and geographical origin, but that does not prevent me from aspiring to speak other languages without an obvious foreign accent.


Hi EU,

I see you’re back on your old hobby horse but why not, I ride a few too. The thing that worries me about someone speaking English to me with what you call a

is that however good the accent may be, I know that the individual is acting an accent and I am immediately suspicious that the speaker isn’t being open with me. I have known people who speak perfect English, one in particular who was a German BBC producer when I wrote and read pieces in German in the old days of east and west Germany and the BBC was doing its propaganda bit and they used me as a German speaker with an English accent. His English was red hot and he in fact went on to work as an editor for a national programme with the BBC. Now I got on well with the guy but there always seemed a sort of barrier because he had no trace of a German accent and to that extent his personality and character seemed subsumed into his accent. If he had had ever so slight an accent, I would have felt I knew him better.

Just a thought.


Hi EU,

If the queen of England is your ideal, studying the sound system of RP is probably the best way to get an artifricial upper class accent. Like Alan said, the problem with artificial accents is that they sound too good to be true. Even the queen has an idiolect, so ‘eradicating’ it in order to be flawless would make you sound more queenlike than the queen. Do you see where I’m trying to take this? Since all native speakers do have some kind of twang or other themselves, I don’t see any point (apart from it being impossible) in trying to sound like a drop of dew falling on a polished silver platter at dawn.

If you live in a different place for a while, you soon get used to the sound system and it is more natural for you to imitate accents or dialects. Some people are more talented than others. When talking to the waitress (probalbly no longer than 5 to 10 minutes), everyone was very eager to detect an accent as she told us that she was Polish. Maybe she would have exposed some mispronunciations after half an hour or so, but I’m sure that nobody had bothered. She was a nice girl, and it was also nice to hear her speak in our accent.

Hi Alan,

I get your point, but don’t you think it’s a bit difficult for a learner of English to know to what degree they should reduce their accent? I had a discussion yesterday about people substituting /i:/ with /I/ in which case ‘sheet’ is pronounced the same as ‘shit’. Now if one mispronounces words in this way it is obvious that you will be misunderstood at times and sometimes your mistakes may even sound slightly comical to the native listener.

If you study phonetics and as a result pronounce each and every word accurately with acceptable intonation then your accent probably won’t be perceived by the general public as blatantly foreign. I think there is a difference between a native French speaker speaking English with a French accent, a native French speaker speaking English with a “neutral” accent (i.e. neither French nor completely English), and a native French speaker speaking English with an English accent. Perhaps it’s the neutral accent you view as the ideal?


Hi Ralf,

I don’t think you would necessarily acquire an “aritficial upper class accent”. I think an upper-crust RP accent can sound quite natural and appropriate in which case it will attract no attention.


EU, would you mind terribly leaving an accent sample in KanTalk? I’d be very interested in hearing a little contribution from you – I’ve left a few samples there myself, by the way. Can I interest any other English-test.net friends?

Looking forward to hearing you all and exchanging views!

Hi EU,

To me it seems quite impossible that a learner can imbibe any genuine accent (even an RP accent) without practicing it in real-life situations.

And I don’t think it’s necessary. From what I can tell, your English is really pretty good, and I’m sure that you do not encounter many problems when communicating orally. If you feel that there is a flaw in your accent that needs evening out, you can definitely achieve this by practicing on your own. And if people ask you whether you are not a native speaker you should take it as a compliment. It’s a sign of sounding very convincing!

Hi Conchita,

Interesting site! I’ve just registered and recorded (your?) “Please call Stella” text. I must say that you sound very courteous in speech! As for intelligibility, your accent is definitely much better than mine :oops:

Hi Ralf,

People don’t ask me if I am not a native speaker, they usually initially assume I am a native speaker. My performance in spoken English can be described as follows following two IELTS Speaking tests:

Band 9

Fluency and coherence

Speaks fluently with only rare repetition or self-correction; any hesitation is content-related rather than to find words or grammar. Speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features. Develops topics fully and appropriately.

Lexical resource

Uses vocabulary with full flexibility and precision in all topics. Uses idiomatic language naturally and appropriately.

Grammatical range and accuracy

Uses a full range of structures naturally and appropriately. Produces consistently accurate structures apart from ‘slips’ characteristic of native speaker speech.

Pronunciation (Band 8 is the highest mark awarded for pronunciation under the marking scheme)

Is easy to understand throughout, with L1 accent having minimal effect on intelligibility. Uses a wide range of phonological features to convey meaning effectively.

If the Examiners’ assessment is anything to go by then I would probably not face many problems communicating orally in English.


Ralf wrote:

I think I have made it clear that in order to acquire an accent you need to practise speaking with that accent. It should go without saying that you cannot learn to speak with a specific accent without listening to people with that accent, but this could certainly be done by means other than face-to-face interaction. How do you define “genuine” anyway? How is an artificial aristocratic English English accent different from a genuine one?


As I told you. Well done!

Hi EU,

To me, genuine accents represent what people speak once you leave the library. If you i.e. take a conservative RP accent, you’d have to rick your neck looking for it anywhere. At least this is what I was told by my (English) linguistics professor. I’ve never heard one myself, but maybe you could provide us with a sample on KanTalk.com?