If you’re not convinced, ask yourself: of all the people you’ve ever heard fluently speak a language, how many speak with bad accents?
There’s a reason for this, but it requires a few things to understand first…
Why Accent is Underrated
Often when I tell people that my Flow Series courses focus on training pronunciation, they respond with something like:
“Oh okay, so it’s something you do AFTER you already learned the language.”
This comment reveals a common misperception about the importance of pronunciation to language acquisition.
Like juggling or walking on one’s hands, people view speaking with a “good accent” as a good trick to show off at parties, but not really necessary to the act of communicating fluently in a language.
This reasoning stems from the false understanding of what language actually is. Most people tend to think of language as being about words and the grammatical structures that contain them. But this is not the case.
Unless you’re trying to communicate with robots, a language is about sounds and the meanings attached to them.
So, there are only two basic steps to learning a language:
- Master the perception and production of the sounds
- Attach meanings to these sounds
Mispronouncing something is synonymous with getting the sound wrong. Mispronouncing on a consistent basis (i.e. speaking with a bad accent) means you will never get past step 1 of the language learning process. This is no matter how many vocabulary and grammar rules you learn.
Still, people continue focusing on everything but step 1 of the language-acquisition process and end up hitting ceilings early on.
Sure, you can understand people when they talk slow. You get your message out, but slowly. Wasas that really your goal when you set out to learn this language?
What An Accent Really is
Language is about shared conventions for sound and meaning. When you are speaking with an accent, you are NOT partaking in the sound conventions of the group your speaking with.
In a way, you are ostracizing yourself from the people whose language you are trying to learn, and this will stifle your development.
This is why the best language learners all learn at least 85% of the accent within the first stage of their studies.
Mastering the sound is like getting in to the group, then once you’re in you can more naturally pick up words, expressions and structures through mimicry.
With proper pronunciation, these sound-meaning relationships are reinforced every single time you hear someone speak.
To be clear, your pronunciation does not have to be perfect, and it may never be perfect, but you do have to be pretty damn close. Otherwise, you’ll be “left out.”