“But I don’t have a foreign accent!” A student of mine – let’s call him Dan – gazed at me in amazement. He did have an accent, and a strong one. But he was not noticing it.
Not hearing how we sound is not only logical, it’s how we’re wired. Literally. It’s how the adult brain functions. Our neurons are highly effective at filtering out unimportant information – how something is being said – so we can focus on what is being said instead.
Personally, I was mishearing English stress (and misplacing it in my speech) for years because of my first-language background – without ever realizing it. Proficient speakers of English, we can only tell our phonological and articulatory training is inadequate to the new language environment if we make an effort to pay attention to the subtle signs.
Seven signs you might benefit (A LOT!) from accent reduction classes:
1. You find daily interactions exhausting
2. People don’t pay attention or interrupt you as you speak
3. You’re not in control of conversations the way you normally would be in your first language (you’re following the lead of another speaker instead of playing an active part; you smile and nod way more than needed)
4. You’re irritated by the typical American manner of speaking (Americans tend to sound overemotional or insincere to your ear)
5. You’re unsure about the emotions the person you are talking to is experiencing – are they being genuine or sarcastic?
6. You’re getting unexpected reactions to your words
7. You rehearse your “lines” for routine interactions