If a primate can change its accent, surely you can?

By Ashley | Uncategorized

Nov 01


I get hundreds of enquiries from people who are desperate to change their pronunciation but worry that it’s just a fantasy and is completely unachievable.

They say things like, ‘surely I’m too old?’,  ‘I’m not good with languages’, ‘I haven't got a good ear - I’m not musical at all’, ‘I’ve spoken English for years and years and haven’t been able to change my pronunciation’.

The ‘age’ argument is a particularly fierce one and as with everything in life, there are people, some with authority and experience who say no, in older speakers it’s not possible, and those who say yes, it is.

Both have pretty convincing arguments and come with a weighty pile of research, academic papers and statistics.

A good and accessible article for the ‘no’ pile is from the ninth edition of a languages magazine called Babel, published in November 2014, which says, after quoting data from a number of studies, that it is ‘quite unlikely that older adolescent/adult starters […] would be able to achieve a perfect native accent and use it consistently in natural circumstances.’ (Justyna Kozyra-Bober).

Here’s a link to their website: http://www.babelzine.com/issue-guide.html

A great article for the ‘yes’ pile comes from The Guardian (13th September 2014) called Am I Too Old To Learn A New Language. It talks about research into a phenomena known as neuroplasticity, which shows that the brain is ‘actually a highly dynamic structure, which changes itself in response to new experiences, and adapts to injuries’.

It acknowledges that the younger brain is more responsive and malleable but is still responsive and able to be shaped and changed. So, you really can teach an old dog new tricks because of the this elasticity of the brain.

Here’s a link: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/sep/13/am-i-too-old-to-learn-a-language

Whatever the science says, the empirical data from people like me, other voice coaches, the hundreds of thousands of people that people like me have coached, as well as professional actors and impressionists, says that it is possible and just takes time, a strong will, a bit courage and the right guidance.

And if a primate can do it, than surely us humans can, no? Have a look at the video below, which shows how a community of chimps from a Dutch zoo changed their accent when they moved to a zoo in Scotland:

NBC News Chimp Video

So have courage in your conviction, belief in your potential and faith in your agile, ever-evolving mind.


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