Linguists have discovered why your foreign language accent sucks
Did you know that your foreign accent is a lot worse than you think it is? It is. You just can’t hear how awful you sound. This is the finding of a new linguistic study in PLoS One from Germany’s Ludwig Maximilians Universitat.
“Learners have a tendency to overestimate the quality of their own pronunciation,” said linguist and coauthor Eva Reinisch in a release. “As a rule, they believe that their English is better than that spoken by their fellow students at language schools, although they make the same set of errors.”
The study had Germans read aloud 60 short sentences in English such as, “The jug is on the shelf.” Weeks later, the same people heard the readings replayed. The recordings were manipulated so that male voices sounded female, and vice versa. All participants rated their own pronunciations much higher than others did, despite being unaware that they were listening to their own recordings. Reinisch speculates that this might be because familiar voices are both preferred and easy to understand—and whose accent is more clear and calming than your own?
The take home: Don’t trust your own ears. You need honest feedback from others, because you simply cannot hear the same errors that you easily detect in your peers’ speech. “As long as we believe that we’re already pretty good, we are not going to put in more effort to improve,” says Reinisch.
The term for this is fossilization: When you take habits from your native language, and turn them into permanent errors in another language. The study notes that these errors are quite predictable, yet most people find it virtually impossible to eliminate them, even with years of practice.
You heard it here first. Don’t be a fossil. Get help.