I speak perfect English but in a totally wrong accent!

sanjana   Monday, November 22, 2004, 12:32 GMT
I am a student from India studying in London since the last one year. English was my first langauge in India since my education was in English. However when I came to London, I realised that I had to learn to speak English with the British accent in order to feel socially included. Also with Britain there are so many accents that I am totally confused.

How does one learn to speak "A British Accent" and still retain one's own unique identity? How does one become part of a foriegn culture socially without losing one's own roots, or becoming part of ghettoized in-bred communities?
Steve K   Monday, November 22, 2004, 15:45 GMT
If you are fluent, understandable and a nice person to get along with, do not worry about your accent. However, even amongst Indians there are those who have a slight and pleasant Indian lilt and those who can speak quickly and fluently and are difficult to understand.
Paul   Monday, November 22, 2004, 15:51 GMT
There are two ways to solve your problem.
I have a friend Joe Alexander from Malaysia, who had the same
problem. He is of British Ancestry, so he found it discomforting to
be treated as a foreigner.

The first solution is easier, so I will describe it first.
Find a friend or work associate with a
a passable English Accent, with whom you can speak daily.
Ideally, he should be a clear speaker, that you can understand easily.
Speak slower, more distinctly and with a lower pitch to him.
Try to mimic his pronunciation and speech rhythms.
Repeat unusual or new words back at him.
Avoid Slang or Swear words.
Avoid feelings of embarassment.
Check with him if any the words have any special connotation in Local English.
After about a month, if you pay attention to how people speak, your own
accent will be reduced and it will resemble the local accent. If you are a natural mimic or a naturally talkitive person this process will go much

The second solution is what you have to use when you don't have access to a local native speaker.
Instead of just learning the local accent, you concentrate on copying the standard accent. The accent of the TV News announcer. You listen to these people on TV.
Again when talking to people, speak slower, more distinctly and with a lower pitch. Use fewer words. Learn to Emphasize important words. Learn IPA and get a good Phonetic Dictionary.
At the end of 4 to 6 months you will have a better accent.
Toasté   Monday, November 22, 2004, 19:30 GMT
Paul has provided the right method to work on your accent (provided you do not want to take accent classes).

I wanted to add one thing. The best way to assess how much work your accent needs is to record yourself speaking or reading from the newspaper.

Most people only 'listen' to a fraction of what they themselves say. As well, the way we think we sound in our heads bears little resemblance to how we actually sound to others.

Record yourself speaking naturally - don't put too much effort into speaking correctly. Put the recording away for two days (to reduce your familiarity with it) and then listen.

If you are comfortable with English, chances are you will hear which parts of your accent might sound odd to local speakers. Those are the areas you need to work on.

And remember this. Generally, to fit in you don't have to pronounce the local accent perfectly. If you work on the vowal sounds you will be 90% of the way there.
Steve K   Monday, November 22, 2004, 20:12 GMT

You are from India, that is not going to change. You will not elimnate your accent and you need not.

If you are concerned that you are not well understood you may record yourself reading something and ask someone to pick out those sounds that might be difficult for the locals to understand. Then just work on those sounds. Also make sure that certain turns of phrase that are common in India are replaced by the more common phrases used in your new surroundings.

You are not a beginner. You are bi-lingual, from what you say. I know many people who speak English very well with slight and pleasant non-standard accents. This includes people from India. Unless you have trouble making yourself understood I would not worry about it. Your pronunciation and intonation will gradually adjust to your new surroundings in any case.
Tom   Monday, November 22, 2004, 22:21 GMT
You are from India, that is not going to change. You will not elimnate your accent ...

Steve, it's quite a disappointment that a man of your linguistic achievement is perpetuating such myths.
Steve K   Monday, November 22, 2004, 22:37 GMT

I believe as you do that anyone can learn to speak with a clost to native speaker accent with enough effort and motivation. But Sanjana is a native speaker! After his studies in the UK he will return to India I presume. Why should he change his accent. It is like an Aussie changing his accent for a New York accent while studying at Columbia.
sanjana   Tuesday, November 23, 2004, 16:06 GMT
Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I may or may not return to India after my education. But while I am here, I would like to experiment a bit with my accent. And as part of my experimentation, I would like to adopt the lifestyle of someone whose accent i want, just for a week or so, to see what happens.

So can anybody give me suggestions about the lifestyle of a typical young British person in his/her twenties?

What are the popular radio shows to listen to, television shows to watch, what are places to go and hang out at, common food habits, most talked about celebrities, music topping the charts, favourite songs, just about anything and everything you can think of...

leo   Tuesday, November 23, 2004, 18:31 GMT
"I realised that I had to learn to speak English with the British accent in order to feel socially included"

It's really disappointing to read this one. Does that mean an Aussie doesn't have to change his accent to integrate in the British society and instead a non-native speaker does? Why ? I don't understand.
Steve K   Tuesday, November 23, 2004, 19:09 GMT

If that is your goal I recommend you choose a radio personality or someone whose voice and accent you like. Record lots of content with that person speaking naturally on an MP3 player or such. Stay with one voice and way of speaking. Listen to it over and over again. Imitate the turns of phrase, the intonation and the pronunciation. Practice reading out loud in that accent. Do not try using it in your conversation at first, just let this exercise slowly influence the way you speak. Gradually your pronunciation will change. If you try too hard to speak that way at first it will sound strange. It should take 6-12 months to effect a gradual transition. If and when you return to India you do it in reverse.
Brennus   Friday, November 26, 2004, 09:10 GMT
It is easier for children to learn to speak a foreign language with the proper accent; harder for adults. Some people never do lose their accents. A prime example is Arnold Schwarzenegger where German is so hardwired into his brain that he will never lose his German accent.
vn23   Friday, November 26, 2004, 10:37 GMT
Heya I guess I'm in a similar position, a New Zealander living in London.

I have problems with some british people understanding my accent and occasionally am harassed for being Australian!!! Actually there is a small minority of English that really don't like australians... whats with that? I've been told its because they are jealous of australian people having good teeth!
Mi5 Mick   Friday, November 26, 2004, 11:20 GMT
The vast majority of people never lose their native accents in acquiring English as a second language. There are so many factors that make it that much harder for adults and "my accent is my identity" is a big one. Arnie's managed to town down his German/Austrian accent somewhat with the help of speech coaching, but he'll always have some trace of it, even when/if he becomes president.

I have the impression that Tom, the host here, has been able to lose his Polish accent, completely (?). At least from the extracts I've heard, he sounds American but it's only in everyday speech that you can trully judge the extent.

I'm yet to meet someone who has managed to completely suppress their primary accent.
Mi5 Mick   Friday, November 26, 2004, 11:22 GMT
* town -> tone