Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Wait there a second! What do you mean, 'which accent should I learn?'. Why can't I speak in my own accent? What's wrong with the way I speak? There is NOTHING wrong with the way you speak! You may want a deeper voice or learn how to speak slower, but you do NOT need to change your accent! There, I said it. This is clearly not a question for everyone. For many of us, so long as we feel that we speak clearly and successfully communicate with others, there is no good reason to think twice about our accent.
But for some people - let's say someone who is bilingual and speaks a lot in a second language - pronunciation of vowels and consonants, how words link together in sentences, use of intonation and stress, are really important aspects in communicating successfully. If people can't understand you easily it can be difficult to converse socially and professionally easily. For example, what about if someone's first language is French and their second language is German? Maybe their vocabulary in German, use of grammar, syntax etc... is perfect, but if they speak German with a strong French accent, some words may not be as easy to understand to some people. Should that French speaker try to lose their French accent and speak with a German accent? No, not necessarily. What a boring place the world would be if we conformed in such ways. And even if they did, surely they wouldn't want to speak French with a German accent?!
But what if they were able to speak French with their French accent and then German with more of a German accent - to make their German easier to understand? By the way you don't lose an accent, you simple acquire the skill of being able to speak different accents - as actors do!
If this French speaker migrated to Germany or married a German person and their work involved speaking to mainly German people all day long, and they really wanted to feel like they fitted in and perceived their accent as being part of what inhibited this, maybe that's legitimate?
I guess what it comes down to is personal choice, right? A choice based on our circumstances and what makes us feel most comfortable and confident. And if that is speaking German with a German accent, so be it!
But let's change the context. What if that French speaker spoke English as a second language instead. Now with English, it's not so straight forward.
The so-called 'English' accent is these days something certainly being questioned more and more. Are we referring to a standard British accent, American accent, Canadian accent, Australian accent, New Zealand accent etc...? And what is meant by 'standard'? In England there are over 56 different regional accents! And then what about Global English? Ahh!
Should our French speaker just stick with their French lilt? Or should they just go for the one that they like or one that seems logical based on their particular circumstances?
Let's talk statistics: America is apparently the largest English speaking country with over 300 million native speakers; Philippines (92 million); Nigeria (79 million); United Kingdom (62 million); Bangladesh (30 million); Canada (29 million); Australia (25.1 million); New Zealand (4.9 million); Republic of Ireland (4.7 million); as well as Ghana and Uganda.
Do these statistics make it any simpler? Maybe not. But what they do suggest is that if we learn to speak English and intend on speaking with others, there's a good chance we'll encounter a lot of English speakers with American accents (or American influenced accents). Should that influence our decision about English accents?
And the only other factor is that historically speaking (probably because of colonisation), British, American and Australian English (and their so-called 'standard' accents) have been perceived as worthy of aspiration for a non-native speaker. Particularly British and American. How long will this remain the case? Has or is the tide turning? Who knows? So if 'which English accent should I learn?' still seems like a relevant question for you, standard American, British and Australian - for a number of reasons - seem like to go-to accents, but it has to remain your personal choice. To learn more about accent reduction, click here.