How to Improve Your English Accent

002We usually converse with our friends and families in the native Indian language we’re most comfortable with. But if it’s a conversation with a professional or corporate associate, the preferred language would most probably be English.

For most Indians, English is not the first language. So when we speak in English, variations in pronunciation and diction are inevitable, carrying forward intonation and accents from our native tongues. Indeed, even in England, there are significant differences in spoken English from region to region. This definitely adds colour to the English language, but could also result in comprehension difficulties or even embarrassment.

The goal to aspire to is developing as neutral an English accent as possible. This is referred to as “Received Pronunciation (RP)”, spoken with vocabulary and grammar that’s accepted as “Standard English”. Some people refer to this as “Oxford English” or “BBC English”. This English is considered to be softer and more pleasing to the ear than other spoken forms such as American English.

No doubt, it’s important to be fluent in your native language and pass it on to the next generation. But on the global stage – and certainly from the point of view of your professional career in finance and chartered accountancy – speaking English well is a priceless additional skill to acquire.

In order to improve your English accent, you would need to listen very closely to native speakers of English, watching the movement of their mouths and lips as they speak, and then keep saying words out loud until you get them right. Don’t do this in public though, else you’ll soon be escorted to the nearest funny farm! Instead, here are a few saner tips to help you cultivate a better English accent.

  • Buy a good English dictionary (the Oxford range is fine). Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Dictionaries use this to depict the pronunciation of words, showing which syllable is to be stressed, etc. A subset of IPA symbols with audio is available at the British Council site here. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/activities/phonemic-chart
  • Syllable stress and pitch range pose problems for Indians speaking English. You need to practice mimicking native English speakers to address these issues. We seem to have difficulty with English vowel sounds, so concentrate on perfecting these. The infamous “schwa” sound is one such example – check out some excellent basic pronunciation lessons at the BBC Learning English website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/pron/
  • TV can be educational! Tune in to the BBC News channel to listen and watch native English language speakers speaking BBC English all day long.
  • YouTube is an awesome resource for videos on improving your English accent. However make sure you are watching videos with the Standard British English accent! It might help to first set your location to “United Kingdom” within YouTube. Two excellent channels are the BBC’s bbclearningenglish (over 300 top-class videos!) and the channels of engVid such as EnglishLessons4U.
  • Find and download free and paid audio books or podcasts to your smartphone using Google or the Kindle app. There are many apps available for improving English accent and pronunciation. Here too, you cannot go wrong with the British Council’s LearnEnglish series, including podcasts, grammar and much more.
  • Ultimately, what’s critical is practice. For this, a spaced-repetition application can be of great help. Try Anki http://ankisrs.net on the Web, or AnkiMobile (paid) for iOS or AnkiDroid for Android.

You can improve your English accent only if you know where you’re going wrong. Try saying these words: accountability, burial, choir, comfortable, contribute, development, industry, interpret, miracle, percentage, premise. Now check your pronunciation of each word at Cambridge Dictionaries Online http://dictionary.cambridge.org or at Howjsay.com. Don’t be upset if you got a few wrong – most of us do!

Just follow our tips and soon you’ll be speaking English as well and as fluently as the best of ’em back home in good old Blighty! Tally-ho!

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