What’s an accent? A sign of bravery.
Remember the last time you were afraid to mess up?
That same fear can stop you from speaking in another language.
But it’s not fear that you need to get over. You have to work on your perception of accents!
If “having an accent” is holding you back, read about these real methods for moving forward.
Change Your Critical Mindset
Did you know that perfectionism is strongly connected to social anxiety?¹
In a study on how perfectionism impacted social interactions, two psychologists had a group of individuals use daily journals. The participants tracked their thoughts on how they perceived themselves.
At the end of the study, they concluded that catching perfectionism in its tracks can help us improve our relationships with others and ourselves.
That means we have to rewire our brains.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a proven form of treatment against social anxiety.
I know what you’re thinking. Did I just recommend therapy?
No, you don’t have to go sign up for a couch session and go out and buy a box of tissues.
You have to get to the core of your negative thoughts. Once you realize where they’re coming from and why, the sooner you can work on making them less hurtful.
Ask yourself, why do I feel embarrassed to speak?
Is it because I feel inadequate when I speak in another language?
Am I worried about how others will see me?
The answer to these questions might hit a nerve that you’re not comfortable exploring yet.
And that’s okay.
Keep in mind that your problems won’t go away with a change of scenery.
Wherever you go, there you are.
So where does change come from? The inside.
Fixed Mindset VS Growth Mindset
We shouldn’t give up after failure. Nor should we let our failures limit our potential.
Psychologist Carol Dweck, who wrote Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (read the summary here), talks about letting failure be the universe’s way of saying “not yet.”
She says that challenges activate the neurons in our brains— it makes us think and grow.
But if we don’t believe that we have the potential to become better learners, we fail at motivating ourselves.
Motivation comes and goes, we all know this. But your mindset has a huge say in how well you can motivate yourself.
So capture your negative thoughts the next time you feel unmotivated to speak in another language.
“I’ll just sound ridiculous” becomes “I’ll take a risk to help myself improve.”
Unwrap negative words. Is it ridiculous to have an accent? Or are you using negativity to cope with a challenge that you’re facing?
Shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is a tough process.
When I lived in Japan, hardly anyone would speak Japanese to me. Even if I spoke in Japanese to them!
I convinced myself that my Japanese was awful and refused to use it.
But when I had my son Chris, I wanted to inspire him to love languages just as much as I do.
So I’ve accepted not being perfect but I still work on fighting negative thoughts. Just as my son is growing, so is my confidence in speaking languages.
And you should never stop growing!
As you grow, you develop habits that will nourish you. What kind of habits work best? Let’s take a look!
7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
I read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Teens back in high school.
I recently started reading the original book, which has been around for many years. And yet, it remains relevant. Clearly Covey’s advice resonates with a lot of people.
For me, it’s more than just a self-help book. It’s a book full of principles that we can apply to language learning.
1. Be Proactive
Speak up and speak often! Just listening to native speakers and expecting to be able to imitate them perfectly won’t widen your potential.
2. Begin with the End in Mind
Think back to why you started learning a language. Maybe you want to communicate with family better or maybe you want to change your career path. Whenever you find yourself drifting into negative thoughts, keep your goals at the forefront.
3. Put First Things First
Prioritize your goals. Are you making speaking a priority? What about comprehending your language? If you’re focusing on this, you wouldn’t even be worried about having an accent!
4. Think Win-Win
Think that whenever you speak, you become more proficient. Accents aren’t a sign that we’re losers or we don’t understand a language. They’re simply different flavors of life.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Accents are misunderstood, some even fetishized. More often than not, the person criticizing those who have accents is dealing with their own insecurities. They don’t have to understand this, but if you do, it’ll be easier to move on.
Communicate with other language learners and native speakers. This is what I’ve learned to do over the years with my husband Javier. I know that he’s not a teacher, so I can’t rely on him to make me proficient in Spanish. But we work together to improve my speaking and hold myself accountable.
7. Sharpen the Saw
Never stop learning. Some language learners see getting rid of their accent as a sign of improvement. In actuality, your understand of a language and its culture are the ultimate signs of improvement.
Improve Your Pronunciation
You can have an accent and still have good pronunciation. can make a fool out of us if we let it.
If you’re worried about how you’re saying words, there are ways to work on that.
Keep in mind that this shouldn’t be isolated from your actual learning process.
It’s one thing to look up a word, say it out loud, jot it down, and forget about it forever.
It’s another to actively incorporate that into your studies.
Sing For Your Memory
If you enjoy music, song is a great way to familiarize yourself with the rhythm of a language.
When I first started studying Japanese, I listened to J-pop religiously. I still couldn’t read kana, one of the Japanese scripts, so I memorized the lyrics through romaji, or Japanese written in the English alphabet (transliterated).
What amazes me is how much I can still recall after all these years!
And for songs in Spanish I just Google the title of the song and add the word letra (lyrics) to the end.
Memorizing lyrics and singing songs really helped my Spanish pronunciation. I no longer fear learning Spanish because of tildes and accent marks.
Accents and Intonations in Japanese and Spanish
When the terrible tildes and accent marks get involved, it used to terrify me.
The more I listened to my husband Javier speak in Spanish, however, the more I started to notice the patterns in how he used accents.
For example, whenever he used the third person preterite, I could hear stress put on the last syllable. Ella comío (she ate). Él durmió (he slept).
When the accent is placed on the e like in él, it refers to he.
When there’s no accent, it’s el as in “the.”
I even started to conjugate verbs myself!
Japanese, however, doesn’t specify where to place emphasis. This led to many intonation problems on my end,
Japanese has “high” and “low” intonations that can change the meaning of a word.
I’ve had native speakers tell me “don’t worry about it,” and Japanese teachers tell me to work on it.
Combat The Toxic Culture Around Accents!
So you’ve got ways to be positive, you’ve built great language habits, and you’ve found ways to improve your pronunciation.
And negativity still hits you hard out of nowhere.
I’m going to be real—this is perfectly normal. It happens. I’ve had people say I’m not bilingual, my Spanish is bad, all of that!
I see this negativity too. Parents being advised not to bother raising their kids to speak another language.
If we can’t be perfect, why even try?
Because an accent doesn’t define you. Your efforts do. And if you have to remind yourself that every day, do it!
Go out there and speak. Your accent is your courage!
Follow me on Instagram! I happily make plenty of mistakes in my stories on there. All because I know how important it is to share my language journey with you all.
Keep fighting the good fight,
Errol de Jesus
Kehayes, I.-L. L., & Mackinnon, S. P. (2019). Investigating the Relationship Between Perfectionistic Self-Presentation and Social Anxiety Using Daily Diary Methods: A Replication. Collabra: Psychology, 5(1), 33. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.257