These days, I see too many English language students wanting to sound like a native English speaker. They feel they need to speak with a specific native English accent while using many idiomatic expressions.
This is a hugely ambitious goal for someone who was not exposed to the English language before they were two or three years old. In my own case, I started learning English at the age of six, and although I’ve been speaking and teaching English every day for the past 37 years, I still don’t sound like a native English speaker.
So, if you know someone who has achieved this goal as an adult learner, then they’re a genius! For most of us, however, this is a rather pointless and disempowering goal.
Why is this a pointless goal?
I can think of four reasons:
a) When it comes to communicating with others, accent is irrelevant. Whether we sound British, American, Italian, or Chinese, what really matters is how easily others understand us.
b) Good speakers and writers avoid using too many idiomatic expressions and complex structures. They keep their language short and simple.
c) English grammar is even difficult for natives to master. As a proofreader, I regularly correct and improve native speakers’ poorly written English.
d) Out of the 1.5 billion English speakers worldwide, only 25% are native. If, for the sake of facilitating communication, one group had to change the way they spoke, it would logically be the natives. Why is no-one asking them to lose their regional accents and limit their vocabulary to the 5000 words that are sufficient to communicate in most situations?
Why is it a disempowering goal?
Our voice and the way we speak is a fundamental part of our personal and cultural identity. If we feel that we must change this important aspect of our identity in order to succeed in life, we’re really telling ourselves: ‘I’m not good enough! I must become someone else, or pretend that I am someone else.’
This negative self-image can generate feelings of lack, inferiority, and envy that disempower us. Even if we work with the most brilliant voice coach to change our accent and memorise the whole of the English idioms dictionary, this ‘I’m not good enough’ belief will result in failure.
Loss of self-belief and self-confidence is a huge price to pay for a goal that, as I argued above, is totally pointless.
What’s a better goal?
Instead of wanting to sound like someone else when we speak English, let’s focus our efforts on sounding like our unique self who speaks with a clear pronunciation and uses simple and correct language. Just imagine for a moment how much less stressful and more motivating this goal can be!
Also, put yourself in the shoes of the people you interact with in English, both native and non-native. Don’t you think they love the fact that they can understand you easily and interact with you comfortably? Or, do you imagine that they think less of you because you don’t speak like someone from Melbourne, Dublin, or Texas?
I’d love to read your thoughts and stories in the comments section.