Why it is difficult to change an accent

Maybe you’ve been in the United States a number of years.  You’ve mastered reading and writing English.  You think you speak it well, but friends and colleagues still say they can’t understand you.

Or maybe as a native English speaker, you have foreign-born employees or interact with foreign-born professionals and you wonder why they are still difficult to understand.  Shouldn’t they just “pick it up”?

The simple answer is NO.

When we are born, in any country, we are able to hear and say all the sounds in all languages in the world.  An infant learns what sounds are important to his or her language and to ignore the rest.  By the time a child is a year old they’ve learned to pay attention only to the sounds and rules of their native language.  And so, with age, it is harder to learn sounds that are part of a different language.

English speakers have the same problem when they learn a foreign language.  Native speakers of another language, say German, Spanish or French, would say that English speakers trying to speak their language speak it with an “English accent”.

So, like any skill it takes training and practice to modify or reduce an accent.

Additionally, sentence structure, intonation, stress, and the rate and rhythm of languages varies, but that is a topic for another post!

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