How do I completely lose my accent

Mallorca Magazine

Sophie Mono | Mallorca |

Carsten Wollmann firmly believes that adults can also learn to speak a foreign language in such a way that you can no longer hear an accent in their mother tongue. Wollmann is a speech therapist and occupational therapist and has lived in Mallorca for six years. He has already treated Germans who wanted to speak Spanish without an accent. "Some people claim that this is not possible, but in healthy people the anatomical requirements are usually right," says Wollmann, and he is certain: "You can work off the German accent." Nevertheless, he warns: "But it is not easy."

German books, German films, German media, contact with German friends and relatives - all of that should be given up as completely as possible for a while in order to create optimal conditions. Immersion is what Wollmann calls it. Complete immersion in Spanish. Ideally for several months or years. "If you have a German partner, you can hardly make it. Not even if you speak to them in Spanish. It is important to communicate permanently with native speakers." It is helpful to have theoretical knowledge of the structure and phonology of both languages ​​beforehand. "You have to be aware of which sounds are pronounced how. Self-didactically and on the street this will hardly succeed. It is better if you actually learn with a native speaker," says Wollmann. "And you need consistent feedback. If native speakers improve the sentences and repeat them correctly, it can help a lot."

Rodney Lietz agrees. He is also a speech therapist and, together with his colleague Miriam Jaeschke, offers home visits in Hanover and Mallorca. "You learn from a role model," he knows. Breaking habits is difficult. "It will be easier for people who are learning Spanish from scratch and who have aimed to speak as accent-free as possible from the start than those who have pronounced it incorrectly for 20 years." How long it takes and how well it works depends on the case at hand. "It also has a lot to do with a feeling for language. Anyone who has already learned many languages ​​or even grew up bilingually in other languages ​​will find it much easier to perfect their Spanish pronunciation." Lietz should know, he grew up speaking German-English. "I haven't tried to pronounce Spanish perfectly yet, but if I tried hard I could certainly learn it," he says.

The region of origin in Germany can also have a minimal effect on how easy it is to pronounce correctly. Many Bavarians, for example, roll the 'R' and usually pronounce the 'S' sharply, just like in Spanish. "And if a Bavarian can easily switch from dialect to standard German, that also shows that he has a good feeling for the language," said Lietz.

Spanish is far from being Chinese, and pronunciation doesn't seem that complicated when compared to French. In fact, Spanish has fewer sounds than German (comparison: in German there are 22 consonant sounds and 15 vowel sounds, in Spanish only 18 or five). "So it is easier for Germans to learn Spanish pronunciation than the other way around," said Wollmann. Nevertheless, it is far from being child's play. "You're making a mistake. Only eight sounds are pronounced exactly the same in Spanish as they are in German."

A prime example of the differences is probably the rolled 'R', or tongue tip R, on which most Germans seem to bite their teeth or rather their tongue. "But you can do it with targeted speech therapy exercises," says Wollmann. He often has cases when his patients want to learn just that. Then he looks at the tongue pressure and the tongue position and gives individual assistance. "Almost everyone gets it at some point," he knows. At least in the exercises. "That doesn't mean that it works automatically in a conversation in which you also have to concentrate on the content at the same time. This transference is the most difficult, and only practice helps."

In general, it can be observed that concentration plays a major role in correct pronunciation. "Anyone who is tired or drunk falls back into the sound system learned as a child much more quickly," says Lietz. Dialects can then be heard more clearly again.

"But one question should be asked first of all," says Wollmann: the question of why. Why do I actually want to lose my German accent? Because I want to give up my identity? To promote my integration? Or for academic purposes? "Maybe then you will come to the conclusion that a small accent is nice and belongs to us."

(from MM 35/2016)

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