I am regularly asked if I can help people to reduce or to eliminate their accents, to help them to sound like a British English native speaker. But, the question I would ask in return is; what kind of British? After all, by some estimates, there are over 50 main accent types within the British Isles, and hundreds of clearly identifiable variations within those types. So, take your pick! Also, keep in mind George Bernard Shaw’s contention in the preface to Pygmalion that; ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him’!! Though he wrote this in 1912, it is still substantively true and that’s without getting into how the other nationalities of the United Kingdom feel! In my case, my accent is classified as Received Pronunciation or Standard British English and this is often thought of by non-native speakers as the accent they most associate with the British and to which they aspire. But, this kind of pronunciation is really only used by approximately 2% of the population, is not aspired to within the United Kingdom in anything like the way it was in the past (if at all), in fact, is often perceived negatively, it is also in many respects very different to the Received Pronunciation of even just 20 or 30 years ago. Increasingly, due regard and value are being given to regional accents. Now, before you think I am shooting myself in the foot by highlighting this, possibly undermining my own accent and the only one that I can teach, I don`t mean to at all. I believe strongly in the value and the validity of all accents.
For this reason, I will always try to steer people away from the desire to eliminate their own accents. Even were it a wholly achievable goal I, for one, do not support the idea that it is a particularly desirable one. Accents are beautiful things, they are an essential part of who we are, they reflect us and our stories, our background, and our roots and they most certainly don’t have to be any barrier to being easily understood.
Where the problem normally lies is not in accent itself, but in the pronunciation of individual sounds and in intonation. And, it is in these two areas that you certainly can make improvements. A good first step is to make yourself aware of what the main English pronunciation problems experienced by speakers of your native language (L1) are. This can easily be done by Googling that question ‘main English pronunciation problems for L1 speakers’, you will find plenty of information helping you to identify the problems most relevant to you and the sounds which do not exist in your L1. You will then know where you need to focus most attention. You should then try to learn the sounds of the English language, and you can find an interactive phonetic chart here http://www.stuff.co.uk/calcul_nd.htm Then begin to practice producing these sounds yourself and recording yourself is a useful way to do this.
The next step is to train your ear to hear those different sounds. Importantly, you also need to be thinking in terms of where the stress goes in particular words. English is a ‘stress-timed’ language as opposed to a ‘syllable-timed’ language, this means that the length of a syllable in English can vary, unlike a syllable-timed language where the length of each syllable is approximately the same. This site gives useful information on this and helps explain its importance (as well as other useful resources) http://rachelsenglish.com/english-stress-timed-language/ and this site is a brilliant resource giving you examples of the pronunciation of individual words, in context, in UK, US and AUS English http://youglish.com/
Once you’ve made yourself aware of the different sounds and stresses, begun training your ear to actively notice these things and started giving yourself as many opportunities to listen to natural English speech you need to be getting feedback on your own pronunciation. Having a teacher or native speaker friend is obviously a great way of getting that, but if you don’t this site is an excellent place to get feedback through audio file sharing with native speakers https://rhinospike.com/
Finally, I would urge anyone worrying about their accent or wanting to ‘sound like a native speaker’ not to! Your accent is an integral part of you, of who you are and it is not that which you should be spending unnecessary energy on eliminating. It is the clarity of your pronunciation and the appropriateness of your intonation which are a marker of fluency.
Here are a few more links to some other sites you might also find helpful: