When most people start to learn to speak Arabic, one of the first things they want to do is to be able to speak like a native: however, some fear that this is an impossible goal because they weren’t born into the language, and since a magic Arabic speaking pill has not been invented yet, they will never speak Arabic like a native. Well, we haven’t invented that magic pill yet, but we can give you some tips on helping you reach your goal of speaking Arabic accent-free. Here’s how:
The Goal is Soul (Soul Searching, That Is)
Before you start work on becoming an accent-free Arabic speaker, you have to understand why you’re trying to sound native. It makes perfect sense if you want to be an Arabic news anchor, for example, where you need to sound like a professional Arabic speaker; however, for many of you, that’s probably not the case, so there are some important things that you have to realize before you start your accent-free journey.
First, there isn’t some mythical scale that goes from, “Wow, I thought you were an Arab the way you speak so well.” to “I’m sorry. Are you speaking Arabic, because it sounds like Chinese to me?” Instead, there is a spectrum where there are people who are understood completely and people who have a strong accent when speaking Arabic. So, before you start working on sounding like a native, you have to find out where you are on that spectrum and the reason you need to have the perfect accent.
And remember you only have to be good enough to meet your goals for that reason. Are you moving to an Arab country and need to assimilate? Maybe you have a new position at work that requires you to do business with Arab speaking countries. For whatever reason, find it on the spectrum because, in most situations, you will not be expected to sound like a native speaker.
Some Science Behind Accent
When I was a child growing up in Delaware, I had an uncle who lived in North Carolina and when he came to visit, I asked him, “Uncle Eddie, where are you from?” He laughed and answered, “I grew up right here in the same house that you’re growing up in now.” “Then why do you talk so different?” I asked, confused. “Too much North Carolina water maybe”, he chuckled.
The point of this story is that my uncle had moved away from Delaware long before I was born and picked up the southern accent of a North Carolinian. And as a child, I could tell that he had an accent. Nearly everyone has this ability to be able to notice when someone has an accent or is not a native speaker when they are a child and it usually lasts their entire life. However, can you fool someone into believing that you’re a native speaker when you’re actually not? Perhaps you can, so let’s see how.
One way to make yourself sound native is through computer analysis which can pick up certain patterns and morph your voice into sounding just like a native speaker. However, that’s not practical for everyday use because you can’t produce these changes in everyday life, and that is where you have to learn to blend nurture with nature.
Of course, nature is what God gave you at birth – your brain and your voice box – in order to produce speech. What’s more is that you are born with the ability to produce the sounds of the Arabic dialect, for example, but if you happen to be born in America where your language is most likely to be English, then you lose the ability to make those Arabic sounds because you never use them. This process of losing the ability to make these certain sounds is known as dysprosody. Thus, being aware of the role nature plays is very critical to understand your individual limits and abilities when it comes to the Arabic pronunciation.
Nurture plays a huge role in accent development, even more than gender, language learning ability, and length of residence; in other words, it’s not necessarily whether you’re a male or female, the smartest in your class or where you’re from, but rather what you do with your life that determines your accent. While it may be almost impossible to change your nature and most of the nurture comes from your development in childhood, you may think to yourself, “Oh, what’s the use? I’m too old to work on my accent now.” However, it’s never too late, as we show you in the next section.
Make a New Plan, Stan
As mentioned above, what you do with your life as an adult can make a difference. Yes, the odds of having a perfect accent require absolutely no effort by those who were born with normal genes and grew up in one of the Arabic speaking countries. And as I’ve mentioned before, things like gender, length of residence, and self-efficacy are not the best indicators of whether someone can speak a language well. If you look around you, I’m sure you’ll find examples of foreigners who have never improve their accent, despite living in their host country for many years. So, what’s the solution to improving your accent?
First, let’s start with your approach. Research has shown that how you approach a language is a big factor in how well you can speak it. If you make Arabic pronunciation a priority from the very first day, you will avoid the development of bad speaking habits. Unfortunately, adults, more than children, are terrible at mimicking pronunciation, so you’re going to make mistakes that may seem difficult to overcome, which brings us to the next point – putting in a conscious effort.
How long you’ve lived in a certain place won’t help you speak Arabic better or reduce your accent. A lack of conscious effort in fixing your mistakes will only make the problem worse. On the other hand, if you make a conscious effort to fix your mistakes from the very start of your Arabic language learning journey, fixing these mistakes will be much easier.
The next step is getting feedback. You need someone who is knowledgeable in Arabic to help you identify your mistakes in both your initial approach and your pronunciation as you go. Knowing what you’re doing both right and wrong is important in helping your Arabic language stick inside your mind.
Finally, have a good attitude. Realize that you can’t control everything and you’ll most likely never be confused with a native. Yet, through hard work and dedication and an “I can do it!” attitude, you will be even closer to achieving your accent goals and attain your desired level of fluency and accent reduction.
Go High Tech!
One of the best ways to learn Arabic speaking skills is through modern technology. There are a plethora of software resources out there on both the internet and your mobile that allow you to learn Arabic online. Use them! Be careful what you choose, however. If you want to improve your Arabic when it comes to speaking, choose something will give you adequate feedback, a conscious effort, and is a sound approach.
Of the many Arabic language learning apps out there, we suggest the one available from Kaleela.com. Not only does it provide you with pronunciation skills to improve your accent, but if you are moving to a particular country, it can help you speak in the native Levantine dialect or even learn the Egyptian dialect.
So, will you ever be confused for a native speaker? Well, again, that depends on your genes and the environment you are brought up in. However, without the right approach and mindset, you probably won’t be confused for a native-born Arabic speaker but by making the conscious effort to go from where you are to where you want to be in your language learning journey, you might just get close enough.
Kaleela is always more than happy to help you improve your Arabic accent, and if you want to know more about the Arabic language and Arab culture, head over to kaleela.com. Here you will find many ways in which you can improve your Arabic accent, as well as other important Arabic language learning skills. And speaking of Arabic language learning, don’t forget to check out our soon-to-be-released Arabic language learning app available for your i-phone or Android device. Make it part of your conscious effort to improve your Arabic accent today!