Monday, August 10, 2015

New Approach to Improve My American Accent

Good Sunday evening from Singapore. It’s been literally ages since my last update on this blog. It feels great to be back!

This is just to give you a quick update on what I have been doing.

I am still doing a lot of language learning day in and day out, but recently I haven’t been living up to my nickname of “Uncle Polyglot,” in the sense that I’ve been focusing on English only, at the expense of the other foreign languages, such as French and Chinese.

In today’s blog post I’ll just write about what I’ve been doing in terms of improving my English pronunciation.

Up until now I have written many blog posts here concerning my quest for a perfect American English accent. Regrettably, I have yet to master a satisfactory accent, despite my intermittent efforts to Americanize my speech over the past few years. To be fair, I think I have made some progress, but I am still far from being able to pass myself off as a native speaker.

Recently, however, I got hugely inspired by a blog by a Japanese guy named George Cooney (国井仗司 in Japanese, not to be mistaken with the erstwhile ER actor) where he uploads his voice recordings of novel passages in English, presumably for the purpose of improving his own English pronunciation.

Here is the link to the blog:

英語で朗読! - 国井仗司 Giving Voice to the Written Word George Cooney's Oral Interpretations of Old and New Literature

As I am not a native speaker of English I cannot assess with utmost certainty the authenticity of his English accent, but to my untrained ear his British accent sounds quite spot on, to the point that I would probably mistake him for an Englishman if I spoke to him on the phone.

According to his self-introduction, he hasn’t received any professional coaching on English pronunciation, which makes it all the more remarkable that he can sound like a native speaker.

What I really found to be intriguing was that, when he recorded his readings of novel passages, he didn’t do it by imitating the audiobooks of these novels. Instead, he reads aloud these passages according to his own idea of what the correct British accent should sound like.

He accomplishes it by listening to his own recording very closely for any deficiencies in pronunciation, thereby fine-tuning his accent bit by bit until he reasonably sounds like a native. It is also worthy to note that regardless of whether the novel is British or American, he invariably reads the passages with his signature British accent.

I’ve found his approach to be unique and interesting, and I’ve decided to give it a try myself. As my personal preference is American English, I will stick to an American accent for now.

I read aloud a passage in English and record my own voice with my IC recorder for analysis. I’ve already done a few voice recording sessions, and so far I've found it a lot of fun to listen to and analyze my own voice.

I agree with him that at my current level of English, it’s no longer necessary to listen to a sample recording by an American voice actor for imitation.

As I’ve watched tons of American movies and television shows in my life, I already know what an American accent sounds like, so I shouldn’t waste my time trying to imitate one particular voice actor, whose vocal characteristics might be completely different from mine and therefore impractical to model my speech on. Rather, I should follow my general mental image of what a typical American accent sounds like, such that I can eventually Americanize my speech in a way that best suits my own voice.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to the readers of this blog, but I hope to be able to prove myself right in the coming months. As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I’ll be uploading my own voice recordings here so you can see it for yourself. :-)

Wish you all a very nice week ahead!


JC said...

Hi there! I just watched your video of 我對粵語的憧憬與嚮往 and I am amazed at your level of Mandarin - which is probably better than 90% of people in Hong Kong (including myself)

Just want to tell you that google text to speech has Cantonese out in August in case you didn't know- so you can read and listen to any texts such as novels etc in Cantonese if you have an android tablet or phone. Pronunciation is surprisingly accurate.
(it's best to use it with '@Voice speak aloud" app.

From someone studying Japanese in Hong Kong

Uncle Polyglot said...

Hi JC,

Thanks a lot for your comment, and a million apologies for the delay in my reply!

I didn't know about this new Cantonese functionality of Google. It will be a great help for me to study Cantonese pronunciation going forward. I will surely check it out.

Best of luck with your Japanese learning. :-)

Uncle Polyglot

Anonymous said...

Hello! I stumbled upon your blog and I have to say that your written English is amazing! I watched your past video of your English pronunciation on YouTube and it was already good. That video was a few years ago; I'm sure you are now much closer to mastering the accent, if you haven't already. 😄 I wish I have the same speed as you as I learn Japanese.

All the best!


Uncle Polyglot said...

Hi Nadirah,

Many thanks for your kind comment! It's true that my accent has improved somewhat since my previous video in English, but it still remains a work in progress. Aside from my accent, I am also working to improve my fluency in English by engaging in a lot of self-talk. I hope to be able to sound more natural by the time I post my next video on my YouTube channel. :-)

Uncle Polyglot