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5 Steps to Speaking with an American Accent
Achieving and mastering a particular accent is no easy deed. In the same manner in which we are all born into a language, we are all born into a way of speaking- a certain individualistic cry to assert the fact that people come from hundreds of different places and are, in turn, diverse from one another. Now, think about this: a child grows up in Nicaragua; for the duration of his coming of age he speaks Spanish with the swish of a Caribbean melody, omitting S’s and exaggerating H’s, but suddenly he learns that in order to be better understood, and potentially move upwards in the workplace he must ditch his accent and adopt a different one. Just like that. Sounds hard doesn’t it? Abandoning the way you communicate, your norm, and learning a new accent can seem daunting, but with the following 5 steps it can be an easier task than once presumed.

First, you have to learn the sounds and hang out with American natives. This step is perhaps the most important of them all because not only will it force you to immerse yourself in their way of speech (trust me, you will unconsciously attempt to speak like them as to not be the outsider), but it will also educate you on the aspects of pronunciation. “What do you mean?” you say? Well, you’ll be able to see, up close and personal, the way in which these speakers’ mouths move when pronouncing certain vowels and/or consonants- by studying this and then mimicking the shapes formed by their mouths, the sounds they make will begin to come naturally.

Secondly, watch a lot of American movies. And by a lot, I mean A LOT. What this exercise will do (in addition to giving some insight on American culture and history) is that it will embed the sound and rhythm the American accent makes into your brain- repetition is key: if you listen to audio tapes in the car every day and watch at least a couple of movies featuring American accents a week, it will be forever stuck in your head. This works in the same sort of way that playing a song on repeat works, and everyone knows that once a song and its lyrics are printed onto the walls of your cerebellum there’s no way they’re getting erased.

Thirdly, try speaking (slowly) with the accent in front of a mirror. Before you take the plunge into practicing your accent in conversations with other people it’s important to work on your technique. Speaking slowly at first is very important, this will give you a chance to observe the way your mouth moves when enunciating and cross-examine it with the way native speakers' do. This is also a great way to build confidence; trying out a new style of speech can be intimidating, similar to trying to speak a new language, so practicing by yourself will show you that you can do it!

Fourthly, record yourself. By using a recorder you are enabling yourself to be your own critic. Having yourself on record will not only be a great way to track progress, but also to identify problem areas that need to be worked on further. When learning new things this is of great importance because you personalize your learning and focus on what you need to improve instead of blindly moving forward.

Lastly, go ahead and practice your finalized product with a group of natives. I feel the need to stress that this should be the LAST step- if you throw yourself into expert territory too soon you might feel intimidated and lose ground. This step however, is great when taken at the right time because it will enable you to truly put all your work into practice and find guidance from friends!

Photo Credit: Unsplash

lrngo users in over 190 countries

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The Fine Art of Learning English Grammar Online for Free
I was privileged enough as a child that while both my parents worked full time, demanding jobs, they could afford to have a babysitter every day after school for my sister and me. In a nutshell, I could describe her as maybe 30 years old, an immigrant from El Salvador with Spanish being her first strong language and English as a modest second, she loved to dance, eat food with too much lemon, and tell us stories about her parents back home. And even though she was paid for watching us, I swear I treated her like a second mother and strongly felt like she was my second mother.

The weird part is that I don’t even remember the language barrier. We did everything together for four hours a day for almost ten years, and I can’t remember a single memory where her speaking very little English and me speaking very little Spanish ever got in the way. And, even though this language barrier was unavoidable, my babysitter was constantly embarrassed by her accent and broken English. I understood the language struggle for a bit when I was older, all the Spanish I had learned from her and basic classes, I lost to the wrath of blushing cheeks and stutters—I couldn’t pick up the rolling r’s and my accent was unintelligible.

So my babysitter took night classes, she’d come to my sister and me for homework help on English conjugation and vocab practices. Eventually, though, it got to be too much. Trying to manage a household, work every day, and stick to strict class schedule was more than she had bargained for and didn’t seem to be making any progress. Really, if you’re out of school, it’s hard to find the time to enroll and attend a structured class schedule, so online courses are your best option. Below are some of the best resources and tips I’ve found online for English grammar help and that my babysitter found useful while working to improve her English.

TIP #1: Don’t use Google translate (or any translator for that matter).
You are trying to actually learn English. Using a translator isn’t going to help you learn anything, just act as a crutch. Tell yourself it’s cheating yourself every time you open it unless you are using it as a dictionary rather than a translator. Also remember that translators often incorrectly translate phrases so that they’re awkward and/or grammatically incorrect. Make sure to double check anything you’ve learned from a translator with someone who actually speaks the language if you can.

TIP #2: Find the sites that work for you and stick to them.
There are the more common ones, like Quizlet, that teach through repetition of flash cards, and more traditional, textbook-like prose. Know that these will not be enough, reading something and moving on to the next chapter does not mean you know that material. is one of the best grammar sites, it provides grammar lessons, translate (which you shouldn’t use), a dictionary, English verb conjugations, and spell check. The best way to know if you are actually digesting the information that you are reading is to give yourself assignments. The biggest negative to online learning is that there isn’t an instructor who will hold you accountable for wrong answers. Hold yourself accountable to learn all of what you can. Take online quizzes and tests, write papers and give them to your friends to check over.

TIP #3: Make a schedule for yourself.
It’s easy to skip class and even easier to skip a day of studying by yourself. There’s no one who is holding this above your head, no reason to keep pushing forward besides your own motivation. You need to make a reasonable and practical schedule. Don’t expect yourself to learn the first section in an hour, but also don’t give yourself a week. Figure out a pace that works for you and your schedule and hold yourself accountable. Reward yourself with something if you do what you’ve scheduled yourself to complete. Writing down your goals on paper makes them easier to accomplish and more rewarding to complete.

Ultimately, learning a new language may be challenging and frustrating especially when you are motivating yourself with online lessons. You aren’t in this boat alone and there are plenty of people who are going through the same struggle as you. Know that it’s worth it at the end, to be able to speak in English with fewer mistakes, especially through online learning, will be one of the most rewarding accomplishments.

Photo Credit: Trevor

lrngo users in over 190 countries

Most common languages spoken in each Houston zip code other than Spanish.
Language Exchange in Houston
If you take a look at the map of Houston above (click on it to enlarge) which lists the most common languages by zip code excluding Spanish and English, you start to get a picture of just how diverse Houston really is. Picture yourself in zip code 77055. Besides English and Spanish, the most popular language in this zip code is Vietnamese, but take just a small step over to zip code 77008, and suddenly there are German speakers everywhere. Now take a small stroll down to 77007, and Chinese becomes prevalent. It's amazing that so many different language speakers from such diverse backgrounds coexist in the same vicinity.

Houston truly is a melting pot of languages, and it’s no surprise that in a city this large and diverse, there are innumerable opportunities to explore learning and practicing foreign languages. Over 90 languages are spoken in the area and, according to the Houston Chronicle, Houston is even more "ethnically diverse" than New York City.

When so many different types of people come together in one place, the opportunities to learn and grow from one another are limitless, as long as you have the resources to find each other and utilize them.

One of the most beneficial tools to learning a new language are language exchange partners. There is no ‘right way’ to find one, and Houston offers plentiful means to connect with all types of people, making your search easy. Language exchange partners make great resources as they allow for the benefits of one-on-one teaching without the cost. The key is to find someone whose language skill set matches what you aim to learn, and vice versa. Once you find a partner, you can begin exchanging lessons, and both of you will find yourselves growing in your respective second tongues.

The Houston Language Partners Initiative Meetup group is brought together by people with similar goals of learning a second language. The group meets socially and hosts free speed-friending events to connect members and promote language exchange.

FYI, if you’re looking to cast a wider net, LRNGO offers users both local and global language exchange connections. You can search the languages that you can teach, those you want to know, and your location to show a list of matches whose abilities and goals compliment your own. From there you can send out messages to connect and set up meeting times, either in person or on Skype (or any other choice of video chat).

If you’re interested in meeting a learning exchange partner on your own, try going to many different locations and many different zip codes, and immerse yourself in Houstonian ethnic diversity. Try seeking out someone at a local coffee shop, library, or bookstore. Pay attention to what they’re doing, and if they happen to be studying a language you already know, ask them if they’d be interested in language exchange.

The key to pairing with a language exchange partner is to be friendly, helpful, and not too embarrassed (remember, they’re trying to learn a new language too).

Beyond language exchange partners, if you’re currently a student at a local university, be sure to take advantage of the language resources that your school has to offer. Rice University’s Center for Languages and International Communication offers courses in over ten languages, study abroad opportunities, and community involvement through service learning and ‘language tables’ that help to build speaking skills. University of Houston offers classes in about fifteen languages and the Language Acquisition Center offers students a variety of useful tools to help improve their skills, including an extensive foreign film collection. UH’s Language and Culture Center even provides international students with an intensive ESL program.

Your dream to learn a second language starts with you, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. In Houston itself, there are so many people to connect with and so many languages to learn; like Tagalog, Urdu, Gujarti, and Laotian. Fluent speakers in languages that I am not ashamed to say I have never heard of, are all living in the same place. When I stare long enough at this map, I’m struck by the opportunities that language acquisition offers, and I feel lucky that we have the ability to connect with new people and cultures around the world, right in our own backyard.

lrngo users in over 190 countries

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