If you think back to when you first started learning another language, you can probably remember how tricky it was to master some of the new sounds. Maybe it was rolling your Spanish Rs, keeping all those French letters silent, mastering the CH-sound in German, or wrapping your head around the tonal aspect of Mandarin. Whatever language you’re learning, you can count on at least one part of the accent being challenging.
That’s why the Babbel team wanted to dive deeper into how accents trip us up on our journey to learn more languages. We surveyed many of you and thousands responded. Here’s what we learned — and what you can do to overcome your accent anxiety.
Who Did We Ask?
We conducted a global Ipsos study about accent anxiety, where 2,528 people from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada told us how they felt about their accents. Here’s a bit about our study group:
- 55% of participants were women; 45% were men
- Ages ranged from 18-65
- 67% were from urban areas, 22% were from suburban areas, and 11% were from rural areas
- English is the first language for 76% of participants (this number includes residents of Quebec)
So what did these people have to say?
1. Nearly Half Have Anxiety About Their Accents
Unfortunately, 48% of respondents have felt anxious when speaking another language. One third (33%) are even afraid of it — which is even more shocking considering that only 23% of participants admitted to being afraid of flying.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women and younger people are more likely to have felt anxious about their accents than the group as a whole. However, in this group of English-speaking countries, Americans scored the lowest on overall confidence speaking another language.
2. Only 19% Of People Are Proud Of Their Accents
On the flip-side, approximately a fifth of our study participants claimed to be proud of their accents. If you exclude the (crowd-pleasing) French accent of French Canadian participants, the situation gets even more dire: Less than 17% of native English speakers are proud of their accent in a new language.
3. Over A Third Want To Get Rid Of Their Accents
In keeping with the previous two statistics, we found that 35% of people surveyed want to get rid of their accents. In this group, Canadians are the least likely to want to get rid of their accents (coming in at 30%), followed by Americans (at 34%), with Brits being the least likely (at 38%).
4. Language Is A Barrier For New Travel Experiences
In an age of perfect, Instagrammable vacations and holidays to make all your Facebook friends jealous, we were surprised to find out that a lack of language knowledge impedes travel. A whopping 46% of those surveyed said they avoid traveling to countries where another language is spoken. (This number is even higher for Americans at a staggering 54%!) Worse yet, 30% of participants said they never travel to a country where a foreign language is spoken.
But not all hope is lost. Among travel-lovers, 93% agree that that locals appreciate it when travelers try to speak the language — even with an accent. Meanwhile, 92% agree that knowing even a bit of the language provides a better travel experience.
How To Conquer Your Fears
The team here at Babbel is always looking for ways to make language learning easier. If our accents are tripping us up and creating barriers to amazing experiences, then we need to do something about that. Here are a couple of our best tips so you can conquer your fears and start speaking:
Change your perspective
By definition, an accent is the transfer of pronunciation habits from your first language (or the language you use the most) to a language you learn later. In other words, you can only have an accent in a language that you’ve invested in! Isn’t that something to be proud of?
Your accent is a marker of where you’re from, your story and your hard work. We should be celebrating our accents and other people’s accents, not shaming them.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter: 91% of respondents agreed that an accent shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to learn more languages. A further 83% also said that their self-confidence when speaking a foreign language suffers because they speak the language too little. This means it’s all about breaking the vicious cycle.
The more you speak, the better your language skills will get. Seize every opportunity to practice speaking your new language and finally make it your own!