Choose Which Language Variety to Learn - Be Efficient (Step 2)
One thing is for certain:
If you're learning a language, you're learning one or more of its varieties.
But, have you ever actually stopped to think about the benefits/drawbacks of learning one variety only?
What about several varieties at once?
If you haven't, there's no need to worry.
On this page, I'll show you exactly how to choose the language variety that is most adequate for you and I'll even tell you how you can speak this variety like a native.
What Is a Language Variety?
Let's start by providing a short and simple definition of what a language variety is.
A language variety is a single entity. It is made up (with little variation among its speakers) of these three things:
- Its own rules of pronunciation
- Its own words
- Its own sentence structure
Now, with this definition in hand, let me ask you this question:
Is American English a language variety?
This question can be answered by asking another one:
Does American English have its own pronunciation?
The answer is... no.
Therefore, American English is not a language variety according to our definition.
Now, you might be thinking:
"But on Google and YouTube, there's so many mentions of the American English pronunciation, so it must be a language variety, right?"
Well, I'm sorry to say that you've been misled.
In fact, American English is, and Wikipedia agrees with me on this, a set of language varieties:
In other words, it's merely a group.
Here's the thing:
What people may think is the "American English pronunciation" is referred to as General American by certain people.
I shall not refer to it as such because of the controversy surrounding the term. Instead, I shall call it Standard American English.
It is a standard form of spoken English, so to speak, in America.
You can often (but not always) hear it on the major national TV networks like CNN, NBC and Fox News (maybe not so much in the regional news and TV shows though). Listen to these recordings and you'll hear what variety I'm referring to.
Standard American English pronunciation, combined with the words and grammar rules of Standard US English, has its own pronunciation, its own words and its own structure.
Language and Language Variety - Knowing the Difference Can Impact the Length of the Learning Curve
It is important to be able to make the difference between a language and a language variety.
A language is not a single entity, it is a set of all possible language varieties.
Languages often do, in fact, have several varieties. A language variety can be a dialect, a sociolect, a standard language, a register, speaking like a non-native speaker, among other things.
Imagine if you were learning dozens of sets of rules of pronunciation, words and sentence structures...
That would be more demanding than, say, focusing on only one set of each of these things, right?
Here's a concrete example of what I mean:
Let's pretend that you're just starting to learn English as a second language.
You could simply go ahead and learn "English". But what is that "English" that you would be learning, do you know?
As I said earlier, a language is a group of varieties. English, being a language, is, thus, also a group of varieties.
So, with this piece of information in mind, you know that you don't simply learn English; you learn one or more of its varieties.
Here are a few varieties of English you could choose from:
- Standard American English pronunciation with standard US English words and rules
- Standard UK English with the Received Pronunciation accent
- Standard Australian English with the General Australian accent
- New York City English
- Boston English
Each one of these has its own set of rules.
Now, which variety should you choose?
This ultimately depends on what you need out of the language.
But I think it's a good bet to learn the standard variety of a language.
Why is that so?
Because speaking a standard variety allows you to reach speakers within a broader area.
Indeed, the standard language is a variety that is meant to be used as a norm within a geographical area, so that as many speakers as possible in this area can communicate with ease.
Keep in mind, though, it can be useful to expose yourself to more than one variety, since, if you're going to interact with many different people, these people may speak different varieties.
The reason why I'm bringing this up is for you to make an informed decision on what exactly you should learn. In the end, your decision should be based on what YOU need.
But here’s something else...
Speaking like a non-native speaker is also considered a variety of language. So, here's another question you can ask yourself:
Do You Want to Sound Like a Native?
(I'm kidding about the aboriginal man, by the way!)
Again, whether you should sound like a native speaker depends on your needs.
Here are two scenarios where you should get rid of your accent:
- You're tired of having to repeat yourself when you speak a foreign language because you're constantly misunderstood.
- You want to be able to assimilate yourself in a certain population and to be one of them.
And here are two scenarios where you should keep your accent:
- You only need to be able to communicate on a basic level and you do not mind having to repeat yourself.
- You absolutely want to have an accent for other purposes: you want to be seen as a foreigner. It is known that some of us are attracted to people (of the opposite sex, for example) with an accent, so perhaps your goal is to draw attention at that level.
I myself have always been striving to speak a language without an accent. I like to be understood clearly and I like to be seen as one of them and to blend in, but I know that not everyone seeks that.
But if that's what you're looking for also, here's how I manage to do it:
How to Sound Like a Native Speaker
First, sounding exactly like a native speaker (except of your own native language) is almost unheard of.
You can be extremely proficient in speaking a language, but there are almost always small signs that you are not speaking your native language.
But that’s not all...
There are people out there who are professionally trained to detect any slight variation of your speech which indicates that you are not speaking your native language.
That being said, however, that doesn't prevent one from trying to suppress their accent. And one can become very good at it if efforts and hard work are made.
A simple trick is to completely forget your native language, and instead try to mimic the sounds of the language you hear.
But there's a catch:
Sounds of a language are not just a simple pronunciation of syllables; speaking also involves using certain tones, stresses, intensity and pace of speech.
Surely, there are likely to be sounds in the language you're learning that may be completely unknown to you that you have to learn, and some may be very difficult to mimic.
One way to go is to keep practicing these sounds and hope that you eventually master them.
Another, more efficient way to learn these unfamiliar sounds is to use phonetics.
Get Rid of Your Accent Using Phonetics
One of the best ways to learn how to correctly pronounce sounds of the language you're learning is to learn about phonetics.
By learning about phonetics, you'll understand how sounds of language are articulated and, thus, it will allow you to learn more easily how to pronounce them.
But here's the best news:
You don't even need to become an expert phonetician to learn how to pronounce as a native speaker; learning just the basics of phonetics (and that does not take much time) is sufficient enough to greatly facilitate the process of learning how to articulate any sound in any language.
Should you be interested in getting rid of your accent, make sure to read this complete guide:
During this step, you should determine which language variety you want to learn. Once you've made this choice, you should find people who speak that variety with whom to practice. And if you want to speak an "accent-free" variety, do so with phonetics.
NEXT STEP: 3. Find language partners (Where can you find people who will willingly practice with you?)