Can you change your accent?

Accents change naturally over time. But could you, and should you, intentionally change your accent?
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What is an accent?

The Cambridge dictionary defines accent as: ‘the way in which people in a particular area, country or social group pronounce words’.

Accents can define us.  They are part of our character as well as our personal, regional and/or national identity.  Accents have an immediate effect on the way others perceive us.  Like any feature of ourselves, they may also be a cause of anxiety or frustration.  Let’s look at a few important points to consider if you are considering changing your accent.

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What is my ESL accent?

For English As A Second Language (ESL) learners, your ESL accent will have characteristics of your mother tongue and the accents of all the teachers you have learnt English from.

If you have learnt with teachers from your own country, who are ESL learners themselves, you may have a stronger country accent (e.g. Italian, Russian, etc).  If you have learnt from only British English teachers, you may already speak with at least a bit of a British accent, equally, you may have an American accent if you have learnt from only American English teachers.

If you are a pupil at an international school, or otherwise have learnt English from a wide range of international accents, you may speak with one accent for some words and another accent for other words.  

There is nothing wrong with speaking in any particular accent as long as your diction is clear and you are easily understood.  Additionally, it’s important that even if you speak with a strong accent, that you can recognise the correct pronunciation of English words.  Knowing the ‘standard British Pronunciation’ of words is important because it can help you to understand regional variations by giving you a standardised reference point.

Does your accent change when you move?

The answer to this question is complicated.  Yes, even your accent can and often does change when you move location or start spending a lot of time in a new environment.  This can also be true for people starting university or work for the first time, where they interact and are influenced by new circumstances and peer groups. 

Native British English speakers who move to the USA or Australia often find that they begin to lose their British accent and start to speak with the local accent.  It doesn’t have to be another country, however, the process of accent change can also happen just by moving from one region to another within the UK.

That said, it is also true that in some circumstances, people’s accents get STRONGER!  

In general, however, it is human psychology that we want to fit in and the more affinity we have for our peer group the more we are driven to be accepted.  Assimilating the accent of the people you spend time with is a natural process and we can take advantage of it if we decide we wish to change our own accent.

Is it possible to change your accent?

YES!  This is sometimes a controversial topic but the answer is simple.  Can you think of an actor who has played a convincing character by using a different accent?  So, is it possible to change your accent?  Of course it is. 

You don’t have to be ready for Hollywood to do it either, but there is a lot we can learn from method acting.  Method acting aims toencourage sincere and expressive performances through identifying with, understanding, and experiencing a character’s inner motivation and emotions’.  Why is that important for changing your accent?  Well, quite literally pretending to be someone with your target accent will really get you halfway there! 

If you are an ESL student looking to improve your British accent, it’s so important to remember that you are speaking a different language, with a different flow, intonation and character.  If it feels like you are speaking your native language, if you feel ‘like yourself’ when you are speaking English, you will almost certainly not be speaking with a British accent.  

Until your target accent becomes normal for you to speak with, it will take effort and enthusiasm.  So embrace your inner Shakespearean actor and enthusiastically pretend to be a native Brit.

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What should I change my accent to?

If you are wondering ‘what should I change my accent to?’  Well, what do you want to change your accent to?  

There is no right or wrong answer to this question unless you don’t want to change.  I cannot over emphasise the importance of understanding that as long as you are clearly understood with good, clear, articulate speech then you are already perfect.  

However, if you want to change your accent you probably already know how you want to sound and why.  Whatever your reasons for wanting to change your accent, they are your reasons and they are completely legitimate reasons to have. 

Finally, if you are an English as a Second Language learner and want to speak with a native English accent, I have two pieces of advice. 

1. Choose a British accent for no other reason than I am biased.  You can see why I think you should speak with a British accent in my video below. 

2. If you don’t have a permanent location in an English speaking country or don’t currently live in the UK, I would advise learning the British RP accent.  You can learn more about why you should choose the British RP accent in my Accent Coaching article

How long does it take for your accent to change?

It’s impossible to say in general how long it will take you to speak in a British accent, however, you can start improving your pronunciation accuracy from day one.  The time it takes will depend on a number of factors including, your current accent proficiency, your level of English language overall, the degree of perfection you wish to acquire, your learning ability and the support and resources you have available. 

Our Modern RP Pronunciation course is one of the most comprehensive available covering pronunciation accuracy as well as articulation, fluency and speaking confidence across its 189 lessons.  The course will put a very big tick in your ‘resources available’ box.

In terms of support, we believe that while you can make a lot of progress with 1-2-1 coaching, you really need to work on your pronunciation repeatedly and over a long period – a minimum of three months, and ideally a year – in order to make the change feel natural, second nature and to embed your learning permanently.  We provide an Accent Assessment to support your learning and drastically improve the speed of your improvements. 

Change your accent and work on your ESL accent in the conversation club

How to change your accent to British

If you decide to change your native accent to a British accent there are three key pieces of advice to follow: 

1. Find a Pronunciation course from a respected teacher who has the accent you would like to speak with.

2. Identify other actors, speakers, public figures with your target British accent.  Use shadowing to mimic their speaking and pronunciation style.

3. Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) – the phonetic alphabet is used in most major dictionaries and provides you with an exact pronunciation of the word you have searched.  The IPA is provided for Modern RP British accent and it’s American equivalent. With a good understanding of the IPA, you will open a huge, free resource base to understand the pronunciation of any word in the English language.

How to change your accent permanently

We often get asked how to change your accent to British permanently.  It is possible, but it takes a long term commitment to normalise your speaking patterns and the sensation of speaking in a British accent.  

For this reason, we have created the Lifetime Package for English language learners, providing students like you with all the resources needed to immerse yourself in English through online courses and communities.  The Lifetime Package will give you lifetime access to the ELAN Community where you can access live lessons on pronunciation, drop-in sessions and the Conversation Club where you can practice your new accent skills without judgement. 

Take the first steps to change your accent

We often get asked how to change your accent to British permanently.  It is possible, but it takes a long term commitment to normalise your speaking patterns and the sensation of speaking in a British accent.  

If you want to find out more about your accent and pronunciation skills, how they compare to the 44 sounds of a British RP Accent and exactly what you need to do to improve your speaking clarity, confidence and fluency, then sign up to our persoanlised pronunciation assessment today for just £49.99 by hitting the big red button below!

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