The American Accent mission: Learning about phonetics and sentence rhythm in English to help with OTHER language projects!
Time to reveal what my fun part-time language mission for the summer is, and you may be surprised by how genuinely practical it is!!
Basically, rather than learn a new language, as I normally tend to do (or maintain my current languages, which I am doing anyway this summer), I've decided to learn a new skill that will help me in my future language learning missions!
When I look at my current language set, I have found that in my best languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese etc.), lots of practice can be good (I'll explain soon what I do to push on to mastery [C2] in my languages), but something else is still missing, and I feel that solving this issue has nothing to do with just spending more time simply practising, but is an intentional improvement that can be done intensively.
I would like to reduce my accent in these languages to be much more convincing as a native speaker; the holy grail for language learners, that many feel is impossible for adults. I've used situational advantages to be confused for a native speaker many times before, but I would like to be able to work genuinely on my accent to bring that a step further!
Rather than dive straight into doing this directly for my best foreign languages, I have decided to learn about how to work on my accent, beyond singing/music lessons that has worked somewhat well for me previously, and make this learning process my focus for the next 2 months, so that I can then apply it to my individual languages afterwards much more efficiently.
As such, this summer will involve learning about phonetics, prosody, mouth positions, rhythm, tonality, different pronunciations and much more. Learning about how these work in general can help me in each and every one of my languages as I apply them. As such, I'm not doing it to a foreign language, but to my English!
Summer in America
As I click publish for this article, I'm boarding a flight to Seattle, WA (there for 2 days), and will spend most of the summer travelling the west coast of the United States, through Portland, OR (for 3 weeks), into San Francisco (1 week), down to the LA area, and finally to San Diego, covering the entire west coast from north to south! I'll stop in many places between these, such as the Redwood park in Northern California.
It will be a great chance to see this interesting part of the world, and I'll be driving the entire coast on the famously scenic routes 101 (Washington and Oregon) and route 1 (California). If you live in any of these cities I mentioned, or on this path in general, make sure to follow my Facebook page updates, because I will make state-specific updates to invite people to meet-ups as I travel through! You'll only see them in your stream if your Facebook profile city is set to be in that state!
Because of this location choice, I'll be focusing on a west-coast accent (specifically that in the area around San Francisco and Portland), and seeing if I can learn how to emulate this accent in my English. I've enlisted the help of Idahosa, since his flow course is quite educational regarding how sounds work in languages, and he'll be providing me with feedback on my attempts to emulate this accent through Soundcloud sounds that I'll upload, using a process he described in detail in this blog post.
I'll try to make a video at the end of my time in the states so that you can see how convincing I am! Right now, I simply can't mimic an American accent (the last time I tried, I was told it sounded like a gaggling alien), and while I do indeed have a few languages under my belt, I've always been terrible at mimicking accents!
And no, this is not an attempt to permanently change my accent, just to be able to switch them if I decide to! Why? Honestly, for no reason other than comedic effect 🙂 I still plan to speak as I naturally do most of the time this summer, because Americans love the Irish accent, and I feel like I get VIP treatment (Very Irish Person) whenever I'm there.
I'm also hoping that by learning the workings of an American accent, I can learn to appreciate what makes my own accent so unique, and could write about the phonetic features of an Irish accent taking what I learn this summer into account, but in reverse.
Having such an accent focused project with English will be somewhat easy I hope, and that will be a stepping stone so that I can confidently apply the same accent changing techniques and awareness to foreign languages.
And yes, this project is intentionally not very time demanding, and also a bit of fun (like my Klingon mission) to recharge my batteries before I dive into hectic new projects. I need a serious holiday after my intensive secret project in Berlin, and what better way to spend it than with my friends in Portland and elsewhere, and by seeing some gorgeous scenery! After this, I can get back into another hectic full-time mission ^_^
In general, if we have a specific goal, sometimes we need to have a side project to learn a new skillset to help us achieve that goal. In language learning, you may find that improving your confidence, learning how to learn vocabulary efficiently, getting the knack of making small talk, or some other ability that is not necessarily relevant specifically to learning your target language, may help you much more in the long run.
I'm hoping that learning in as efficient a way as possible how to change my accent, first in my native language, and then in my foreign languages, can help me in the long run! I'll make sure to share all my thoughts on working on your accent on the blog as I'll learn them!