Adjusting to a new cultural setting can be difficult, even without a language barrier to overcome. Learning both a new culture, and a new language, can seem like a daunting task. This is especially true for adults. While children have a natural capacity for absorbing information and mimicking sounds, we progressively lose this innate ability to learn as we move into adulthood.
The older we get, the more difficult it is to acquire language skills, and most notably, the correct pronunciation. This means, that the older you are when you first learn a language, the more likely you are to retain a significant accent. An accent is not necessarily a bad thing. Variability in accents can make interaction with people more interesting and entertaining. Consistently poor pronunciation, however, can make you difficult to understand, lead to embarrassing situations or worst of all; make native speakers doubt your intellectual capacity.
My family moved to the United States when I was ten years old. My two sisters were six and two years old at the time. We stayed in the US for two and a half years, but it was long enough for us to pick up English in the most natural way – by interacting with English native speakers. Although all three of us speak English fluently, I, as the oldest, have had the most difficult time with correct intonation, accents, and pronunciation. Things that came naturally as breathing to my younger siblings, I have had to actively work on.
Many of the errors that permeated my early English were difficult to correct. I still speak with a light accent, but over the years I’ve slowly eliminated the majority of my most pervasive mistakes. The most difficult part of improving your speaking skills is the fact that hearing your own errors is a lot harder than hearing the errors of others. There is good news, however. With a continued effort you can learn to minimize or eliminate your worst language errors.
The best thing to do is to ask English-speaking friends to correct you when you make severe blunders. Friends and coworkers will often stay silent for fear of causing you embarrassment, but if you make it clear that you wish to improve and welcome critique, they can help you pinpoint your worst pronunciation problems. Once you know what the problem is, correcting it is only a matter of time, practice, and consistent effort. You and I will both likely retain some of our accents, but our spoken English skills can always improve!
By Magdalena GillMagdalena Gill – Born in Poland; she is now an accomplished Geologist with URS Corporation in the US. She pursued her post-graduate degrees from the University of Wyoming and Alborn College in the USA.