How to Speak like a Native

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I agree with Steve Kaufmann’s statement that wanting to speak like a specific person is very important when trying to achieve a high accent proficiency in any language. However, I do not agree with his statement that learning the IPA is much LESS useful.

I do not simply disagree with it just because I am infatuated with Phonetics-and, in a way I’m biased- but because through the IPA I was able to perceive the difference between similar sounds myself. I remember myself as a freshman, having my first Phonetics classes at the University. As I am a highly visual learner, I can still feel my amazement at looking at two different IPA symbols: the long and short front close vowels. And this was just the beginning of “discovering” new sounds. Sounds which I had heard and maybe studied before, but for the first time, become AWARE of their existence. Therefore in my particular case, I first “saw” the sounds, realized they were two different ones, and started producing them.

There is quite a large amount of highly visual learners out there. They might “see” the symbols as relevant. Since we are all different, and we all learn in a different way and pace, I think we need to focus on discovering what actually works for us. And use it.


One thought on “How to Speak like a Native

  1. As a foreigner living in a second language context, I’ve had all of the common struggles with communication that everyone else has. Although I’ve lived in Paraguay for over 30 years, and have done my best to learn the correct usage and pronunciation of Spanish, I still usually sound like a foreigner. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences in languages, and become easily absorbed by the distinctive sounds of the varieties of Spanish. Early on, I realized that the”e” of Spanish is NOT pronounced like the English “a”, even though that is the way the pronunciation is taught in US schools.

    I had no idea of the phonetics/phonology system of language until I attended university, since I had learned my Spanish in the old fashioned way, i.e. from the people around me. (Sort of like, “You have to learn how to ask for food or starve to death! – Nothing academic about the method!) However, like Prof. Christian, learning the symbols and place of articulation of the sounds made a huge difference in my understanding of the complexities of sound. It has made me a better teacher, even though I don’t teach Phonetics or Phonology. Just being able to help a student who is struggling with a certain sound by showing the symbols and explaining how the sound is formed and articulated has been a delight, since I know exactly how it feels to finally “get it”!

    However, as much as the sounds of a language interest me, I have come to the conclusion that I will probably never speak like a native Paraguayan. I’ve also come to the conviction that that’s okay. Although I’ve lived most of my life in this country, English is still my first language, and that’s what my Spanish sounds like. It’s part of my identity, of who I am. So, I do my best to speak Spanish in a way that is easily understood, trying to pronounce the words as they should be pronounced, but at the same time, not expecting perfection!

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