One of the most frequently asked questions I get as an American accent instructor is, “Can adults ever completely lose their foreign accents?” This is certainly an important and relevant question for anyone wanting to sound like a native speaker of American English.

The short answer is that it is rare for adults with foreign accents to end up sounding 100% as if they were born in the U.S., but it’s possible for some people.

The long answer is: it depends on a lot of factors. By far the #1 most influential factor in someone’s ability to perfect a new accent is the age they start to seriously learn it. The younger a person starts to learn an accent, the better chance they will be to able to perfect it. Furthermore, people’s ability to learn a new accent as if it were their mother tongue drops sharply after puberty (around age 13.) To put it another way, it’s easier for children to learn a new accent than young adults, and it’s easier for young adults than for older adults.

Other factors that influence a person’s ability to gain an accent such that they sound like they were born in the U.S. include:

  • the age they started to learn English
  • how intense their accent training is in terms of hours per week
  • their motivation
  • the skill of their instructor.

Even when an adult has a strong combination of all of the above factors, luck is still involved – a person’s natural talent or their “ear” for languages also plays a role in determining how close they get to sounding 100% American.

As a comparison, think of the factors that influence a person’s ability to become a great piano player: the age they were when they started taking lessons, how many hours they practice per week, their motivation, skill of instructors, natural talent, and luck all influence the person’s success as a piano player. Also similar to playing the piano, perfecting an American accent is a skill that may take many hours of practice to improve, and a person may never be satisfied with themselves that they have achieved their goal of “perfection”.

Although few people who take American accent lessons end up sounding like native speakers, in all my years as an American accent instructor, every person I’ve taught has made progress towards their goals. Everyone is able to learn tips and tricks to improve their American accent and most people report feeling significantly more confident in their speech after a high quality accent reduction training course. Accordingly, I emphasize focusing on accent reduction rather than “perfection”. I encourage all my students to set realistic goals that are helpful for everyday communication, such as being understood clearly by those around them, and improving their accent to the maximal extent possible.

For more information on accent training’s role as a necessary step towards learning an American accent, please see the blog post: Why don’t accents go away by themselves?

 

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