Communication is a life skill that has got to be one of the most important ones you’ll learn and hopefully if you’ve mastered it, you’ll be reaping the benefits of your success as you read this and will probably be agreeing whole-heartedly; smiling to yourself gleefully. But for the rest of us who are a work in progress, perhaps reading on might be a wise option.
The neutral accent is most acceptable in Asia and as a matter of fact is gaining popularity the world over in the continents of Africa, Europe and South America where the indigenous populations can perhaps understand this ‘unaccented’ English much better than a heavier British or American intonation. So for media-related projects, the neutral accent is gaining ground so much so that voice artists in England and America are becoming intrigued with the now sought after “Neutral Accent”.
“Is my accent very obvious?” “How do I sound more neutral?” This has got to be a couple of frequently asked questions from anyone looking to speak more clearly, cleanly and articulately. It has been said that “an accent is the carryover of the sounds and rhythm of your first language to your second language.” In Asia, you will often hear English spoken with distinct accents based on the native language Asians, especially Chinese or Indians have grown up hearing all their lives. What you’re surrounded by, you instinctively pick up quite naturally. There is a musicality to native languages and that translates to the way we adopt that language to spoken English.
It must be said that speaking fluently in your native tongue is an asset. If you’re multi-lingual you’re at an advantage in many ways like you’ll be able to connect to your community, culture, ethos, art and humour and perhaps even monetize this linguistic prowess by being a translator, an ambassador, a VO artist, sub-title writer or an interpreter. Besides, the world is a colourful and richer place because of the many languages with its legacies and heritage, passed on from one generation to the next and should always be celebrated.
It goes without saying though, that English still rules as the most recognised, used and adopted language across the globe and being able to speak it fluently is a stepping stone to globalisation and overall success in trading, doing business, or climbing the corporate ladder to start with. So let’s say if you’re looking to speak more effectively in your daily life or in those corporate meeting rooms or you’re in the communications space and just want to ace your ability to get your message across then….
Here are 10 top tips to Neutralise your English
More exposure to original “Queen’s English” – For lack of a better term, preferably without the heavy British, Irish or Scottish intonations. Programming such as BBC radio, BBC World on TV or Documentaries by Sir Richard Attenborough might be a good place to start. The more you hear the language as it should be spoken, the better you’ll be at reproducing it automatically. Your brain is wired that way – to put into long-term memory what you’ve heard over and over again.
Practicing High-Frequency Words – Get lists of the top 200 High-Frequency Words and use a google translate to get started with helping you pronounce these words. Make a note of what you tend to say and how it’s actually supposed to be said.
Record yourself and compare – The most objective thing you can do for yourself if to record yourself voicing these high-frequency words or a transcribed sentence from an English programme and then to compare your recording and your spoken words with the presenter or VO artist and pinpoint where the discrepancy is. Make some notes on vowels or stress marks, correct it and record again to see if you’re now closer to the original. Keep practicing until you sound exactly the same.
English Pronunciation App – Download this handy app to your phone; for example ‘Howjsay’ or its equivalent so you have a ready reference should you need to clarify or seek assistance on any word you’re not familiar with.
If you’re fond of reading – Then Listening to the audiobook versions of your best sellers instead of reading the physical print book might be a great way to neutralise your accent or just rest those strained eyes. You never know it might just be very entertaining and relaxing!
Trying out tongue twisters – Quick repetitions that get progressively faster might help you with your rate of speech. So you might begin to articulate and speak complex sentences with difficult pronunciations more fluidly and rapidly. You may begin to ease into the language and it might start to sound more effortless, natural like a native English speaker.
Enrolling in English Phonetic, Accent Reduction, Speech Classes or Voice Training Courses might be a good investment if you want to seriously see and monitor some progress. One-to-one guidance and objective feedback on mouth movements, tongue, lip, teeth placements and formations, stress marking within words and the common rules of the English language are invaluable. Otherwise, YouTube has a wealth of information. There are tutorials from experts that you can watch to improve your English speaking.
Choose the company you keep – Mindfully choose to hang out with people who speak better or more articulated English than you and begin observing their intonations, inflections, and pronunciations. Children instinctively pick up accents, lingo, abbreviations and jargon by keen observation and imitation until it is absorbed into their memory bank for retrieval at will. That’s why you will notice some kids are able to speak their native dialect English at home and switch to their friends’ lingo when at school or college quite effortlessly.
Embrace your unique Accent & Ethnicity – Don’t be too Conscious of what others might think that you’re afraid to speak up in public. Relax and stop being ashamed of your accent. Embrace it and others will too. You rarely see native Spanish or some European speakers with heavy accents hold back and have you judged them for it? Maybe not! You tend to take it in your stride. Some will find it exotic and interesting. The Films ‘Brave’, ‘Moana’ and the recent ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ were a hit, in part because of the ethnic splendour, freshness of faces and accents used. It’s what differentiates us. Slowly, with a single-minded focus and effort, you will be proud of yourself and the tireless efforts you invested in your language development skills.
Lastly, commit and decide to improve with practice, practice and more practice – Without purposeful and technical practice, a skill cannot and will not be imbibed into muscle memory. It takes months or sometimes years of dedicated practice to perfect a skill and Neutral clean, clear, unaccented English is no different!
Happy Neutralising!! Wishing you the very best with your quest to speak more engagingly and confidently.
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