What is the best way to help students lose their accent?

I have an adult student who is quite proficient in English. She has asked me what is the best way to lose her accent. Does anybody have any ideas on how I can help her? :ponder:

Spend the rest of her life in an English-speaking environment. I mean that seriously.

After a lot of time studying Chinese study and then living here for five years, I can get away with a phone conversation without someone noticing I’m not a native speaker of Chinese, but I’m still far from “losing” my foreign accent entirely. Likewise, I know plenty of Taiwanese people who immigrated to the US and speak almost perfect English. Almost. It’s a life-long endeavor.

Tell her to watch lots of “Friends.” Aside from the ones who spent time living or studying abroad, my friends with the best English learned it from that show.

It won’t cure everything, but my favorite way to improve pronuciation quickly in the majority of Chinese speakers is what I call “Teacher Cai’s three-finger rule.”

Ask the student to hold up three fingers (thumb and pinky tucked in).
They will most likely do it with the fingers pointing upward.
Tell the student to turn the hand so that the fingers are parallel to the wall, and insert them in his mouth.

The point is that Chinese can be spoken intelligibly without really separating the teeth, but English requires “chewing” with the lower jaw to make it sound right. Getting them to open up the mouth goes a long ways toward improvement in general.

It won’t cure everything, but my favorite way to improve pronuciation quickly in the majority of Chinese speakers is what I call “Teacher Cai’s three-finger rule.”

Ask the student to hold up three fingers (thumb and pinky tucked in).
They will most likely do it with the fingers pointing upward.
Tell the student to turn the hand so that the fingers are parallel to the wall, and insert them in his mouth.

The point is that Chinese can be spoken intelligibly without really separating the teeth, but English requires “chewing” with the lower jaw to make it sound right. Getting them to open up the mouth goes a long ways toward improvement in general.

I just remembered: My gf’s sister speaks literally almost no English, and I decided to try an experiment to improve her pronunciation. I wrote English words using bopomofo, which obviously at best was only an approximation of the proper pronunciation, but the results were surprisingly effective. Of course she forgot it immediately afterward.

Record yourself reading through an essay, and tell her to do the same exactly how you did it, same intonation and everything. Then listen to it and point out where she needs to improve. That’s all I’ve got.

I had a student ask me the same thing yesterday. I googled accent reduction and got some interesting results. I agree with Hokwongwei, Friends seems to be the show to watch. My students watch Modern Family a lot too.

Except when they’re supposed to close the mouth. The “m” sound in words ending in “m” like “sometime” is often not pronounced due to the open mouth. That’s one of the biggest pronunciation pitfalls to the locals.

Responses seem to be interpreting “accent” as pronunciation. I’d have thought they are different.

Assuming you aren’t training covert operatives for clandestine insertion into/subversion of US society/sitcoms (however worthwhile that might be) I don’t see accent matters very much.

Well, accent is habitual pronunciation…

You’re right, it doesn’t matter much, unless it interferes with comprehension, or is interpreted badly by whomever you’re talking to. I don’t think a Taiwanese accent in English would be interpreted badly as long as it can be understood. (Side note: strangely, I can’t imitate one despite having heard them for so many years.)

[quote=“ironlady”]Well, accent is habitual pronunciation…

You’re right, it doesn’t matter much, unless it interferes with comprehension, or is interpreted badly by whomever you’re talking to. I don’t think a Taiwanese accent in English would be interpreted badly as long as it can be understood. (Side note: strangely, I can’t imitate one despite having heard them for so many years.)[/quote]

I can’t, either. Unless it’s that really high pitched one that sounds super-excited and amazed all the time. That annoying sound some people make when they speak English. Ahhhhhhhh.

Isn’t there a risk they’ll end up with an American accent? :doh:

[quote=“Puppet”]

I can’t, either. Unless it’s that really high pitched one that sounds super-excited and amazed all the time. That annoying sound some people make when they speak English. Ahhhhhhhh.[/quote]

I have a hard time doing a full on Taiwanese accent either, despite I obviously could still have some in me. But Taiwanese accent is hard to imitate. It’s not like Cantonese or Indian accents which are very distinctive and fun to do… I wonder why that is…

As a Taiwanese who started learning English at 13, and didn’t really get any good until 20, these are what worked for me.

  1. Got an English speaking only gf. That worked wonders…
  2. Watched tons of Star Trek (the miracle is achieve 1 and 2 together)
  3. Watched even more tons of Friends…
  4. Having spent many of those years in America probably has something to do with it…
  5. Lived in places like Hamburg and El Paso, so there were absolutely no one else to speak Mandarin with probably also had something to do with it…
  6. Watched tons of South Park, and countless hours of Late night with Conan and other stand up comedians on the comedy network. But really by then I think I spoke ok English.
  7. Watched countless hours of the Food Network, it certainly helped me learn a lot of food related words.

Isn’t there a risk they’ll end up with an American accent? :doh:[/quote]

Better than my NZ accent…

[quote=“Ducked”]
Isn’t there a risk they’ll end up with an American accent? :doh:[/quote]

That’s not a risk; it’s a feature.

[quote=“Tempo Gain”][quote=“Ducked”]
Isn’t there a risk they’ll end up with an American accent? :doh:[/quote]

That’s not a risk; it’s a feature.[/quote]
Who wouldn’t wanna sound like the lovely Jennifer? Personally though I would rather go for sounding like someone from Big Bang theory. I hear the Indian accent is gaining popularity but Sheldon would be my first pick. Unfortunately for students they would need a PhD in being an arrogant retard to sound like Sheldon.

I like accents and, unless you want to become an undercover agent pretending to be someone you are not, there is no point in losing your accent or replacing it with another. Now, wrong pronunciation is something different, or stressing the wrong syllables, or not pronouncing consonants at the end of words, like Davi(d). My best advice would be to listen to native speakers (tapes/videos) and repeat after them over and over again. That’s how children learn to speak in the first place, right?

In that case, most Taiwanese people pronounce the word “map” as “mep”, so “mapping” becomes “mepping”, basically the [ʌ] or [a] sound is replaced with [e], would that be considered an accent, or wrong pronunciation? Also, while they pronounce map as mep, when it comes to mapple, a word that that actually uses a [ei] they pronounce it with a [ʌ] or [a]. Is this an accent or wrong pronunciation?

other words that I’ve struggled with when I first went back to gradschool here:

cache => catch
zoom => loom

hmm… having a mental shutdown… but there are a lot of these, coming from people who scores well in English placement, to a degree where I used to have trouble understanding what they are trying to say (even though they use these words in mostly Chinese sentences). Now I can speak the way they do, to minimize miscommunication, cause it seems like I can pick up how they say it, but for the life of them, they can’t pick up how to say these words correctly.

“Here we have many delishurs snake.”

That is all.

You can’t “lose” an accent. Even if your student moved to an English speaking country and the lived rest of his/her, life they would still have an Asian accent. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, be proud!
As an aside, I was taking a break ouitside near Jongshiou Fushing when a old hastily dressed woman walked by. She looked like a bag lady. I just KNEW she was going to try for a converstation. Turns out she was a PhD in accounting at Colubia University for 23 years. We a had great conversation and saw each other other often. I heard she passed last year. Sad. I recall one of her questions to me. Can you still hear my Chinese accent? Yes I could and told her to be proud of her heritage. I would no longer want to lose my N.W. down home country boy accent than the people of this country should want to Lose there accent. Focus on pronunciation - not accent. It will NEVER go away after the language is learned.

My short quick answer which has made a world of difference with YOUNG learners is: get to get the vowel sounds right. Be persistent and consistent about it.

If we tolerate long /e/ as short /i/ when they are young, it will come back to bite them later. It begins when we accept “eat” for “it” and “team” for “Tim.” That short /i/ is a wicked killer for these Taiwanese but it makes all the difference in the world. Once you hear a kid start nailing the short /i/ on a regular basis, they start sounding like a native English speaker.

Naturally this would require way more practice for an older EFL student. But the vowel sounds matter. They’re as important as the consonants, just as the tones are to Chinese. You just gotta get them right. I think this is true for anyone who wants to drop their foreign accent. I think we let it go because we think we can fill in the blanks between the consonants. But if your student wants to drop her accent, focus on the vowels. We tend to focus on things like the th/s and l/r mix-ups and final consonsants but I think vowels are the real key to natural sound.