One of the most challenging things about learning a new language is using the proper pronunciation. It’s so difficult to mimic a language’s sound, rhythm, and mouth movements exactly. Constant practice is key to getting a good accent, which means speaking in your target language daily. But it’s also essential to have a focus – most countries have different dialects, and the vocabulary you use depends on your age too. For example, you wouldn’t hear someone over 30 saying ‘totes’ when agreeing with you or finishing a sentence with ‘no cap’ to show they’re being honest. So, how do you learn all of the nuances of a language from a country you didn’t grow up in?
Speak With the Locals
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the best way to become more fluent in a language is by talking with native speakers. These conversations make you think fast about what to say and, with practice, it becomes easier to speak without having to translate everything in the back of your mind. Plus, if you’re observant, it’s a great way to learn how local speakers’ mouths move and apply it to your own speech. As a bonus, you’ll learn vocabulary that you never heard before, colloquial expressions, and more.
Of course, the best way for you to do this is by traveling to a foreign country. But we all know that this is rarely doable – especially when you would need to spend months abroad to become fully fluent. Your best bet is to turn to the internet and find like-minded native speakers. Alternatively, you can also take classes with a native teacher – Lingoda is a good platform for that – or use a language learning app that promotes user interaction, such as Busuu.
Watch Native Speakers
No, that’s not a mistake – we really meant ‘watch’ and not ‘listen’. While listening to native speakers is useful, observing their body language is even more crucial. Most experts agree that 70% to 93% of our communication is nonverbal, and each culture has its own unique gestures and social rules. For example, Portuguese people use a lot of physical contact – they might grab your hand while telling you something emotional. On the other hand, Germans generally like to keep their distance. It’s important to know these details, as they’ll help you understand what body language to use when speaking with a local. If you can’t find anyone to spy on, try out Babbel’s native conversations and see if they do the trick.
Watch Movies or Listen to Podcasts
Another way to learn the correct pronunciation or body language is through entertainment. Watching foreign movies or YouTube videos is an excellent way of examining how native speakers behave and observe mouth movements. Meanwhile, podcasts, music, and the radio are perfect for expanding your vocabulary and perfecting pronunciation. If you don’t know what to watch, then MosaLingua has great recommendations with its language courses.
Read Out Loud
Reading books, magazines, or even blog posts in your target language helps honing your reading and writing skills. But it can also be a good opportunity to improve your speaking. Instead of reading in your head, read everything out loud. It might seem a bit strange at first, but it’s good practice for when you actually need to speak with others. It goes without saying that you need to be self-critical and take notes of the words you aren’t sure how to pronounce. Another option is to record yourself speaking, which makes it easier to pinpoint mistakes.
Use Speech Recognition
Technology can be your friend and help you understand if you’re pronouncing words correctly. Some language learning apps – such as Rosetta Stone and Verbling – come with speech recognition features that record your voice and tell you whether your pronunciation is correct or not. They even point out which syllables require improvement. It’s still important to be aware of your own speech, though. Like any other type of technology, speech recognition might fail and tell you that you’re saying something properly when you’re not (or the other way around).
Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Even native speakers make mistakes when pronouncing some words. And just because someone speaks a specific language, it doesn’t mean they can do every accent. For example, most Americans can’t speak with a British accent. So, don’t expect to know all about the language you’re learning. If anything, making mistakes is just a normal thing to do. Plus, when learning a new language, you’re typically taught its standard version before moving on to local dialects. So don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while longer to learn how to speak English with a Texan accent.
All in all, there are many barriers to achieving full fluency. And even if you reach that goal, it’s still natural to make mistakes and mispronounce less-common words. Fortunately, everyone’s going to be too impressed by your new language skills to even notice. Just keep practicing on a daily basis, and don’t forget to have fun!