Why It's So Hard to Get Rid of Your Accent

Tip: Try being under 5 years old
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2014 4:50 PM CDT
Why It's So Hard to Get Rid of Your Accent
Losing an accent is difficult.   (Shutterstock)

Even after we've become well-versed in a second language, that native accent can be tough to shake. In short, an expert tells LiveScience, that's because you probably are older than age five. Between birth and that age, our flexible minds are good at picking up different sounds. But beyond that age, really getting new sounds down is a tall order. "You can't learn a second language the way you learn your first language," says expert Katharine Nielson. After age five or six, "you just can't hear the sounds the same way."

Another issue is that we often learn second languages through writing before speaking. Were speaking the initial focus, a native speaker could perhaps help correct early errors. Nielson suggests getting lots of exposure to a new language as it's spoken, through TV shows with subtitles, for instance. It's also possible to be trained, as actors are, on the physical creation of a new sound. "They're changing the way they articulate," Nielson says of the actors. "They're figuring out how to use their mouths to make different sounds." (More talking stories.)

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