Many times when I speak Spanish to a native speaker, I get a compliment. Usually it’s “hablas bien” or “hablas muy bien”. I think for native Spanish speakers it’s rare to hear a non-native speak perfect Spanish with no gringo accent. So the compliment is often more of a statement of surprise rather than an actual compliment. But I say “gracias” anyway.
So what are some ways to lose the gringo accent? First off, it may be harder if you have a strong accent to begin with, like if you have a southern (or hick, no offense) accent, (which really isn’t relegated to the south) as many Americans do. I have a very boring plain voice so I didn’t have to work hard at losing an accent. My advice for those with a strong accent would be to really focus on the sounds of the individual vowels and consonants in Spanish. They are much shorter than the typical American accent.
In my book I call this micro-pronunciation. It is pretty easy to master and should only take a few weeks. After you’ve mastered the micro-pronunciation, you have created the foundation to build upon. Now to really sound like a natural Spanish speaker, you must master what I call macro-pronunciation. This refers to how words are grouped and slurred together. This takes more time and practice to master.
The best way that I have found to master this is by reading out loud. Reading out loud has a much different effect than reading silently. By doing so you are training the muscles in the face and mouth (including the tongue) to produce sounds and combinations of movement that they are not used to.
A method that works wonders is to read a short article several times. The first time you will be working on comprehension of what you are reading. After you have the comprehension of the text, you will be re-reading the article to practice the flow of the language and the resulting facial and tongue movements that are unique to Spanish. This is much more effective than just reading something once, like a newspaper, because you aren’t focusing on comprehension as much.
I prefer to do this very systematically. I read an article twice, on 5 different days. So in total I read the article 10 times. I have been doing this method with the reading material that is included in the Foreign Service Institute Basic Spanish set. The benefit of using these is they are free. But there are many problems. There are quite a few spelling errors. The documents they come in are clunky pdf files of photocopies and they are hard to read from. And the material is irrelevant and outdated.
A better option that doesn’t have any of those flaws is Think Spanish Magazine, an online reader with contemporary articles of cultural interest. Each article also has a recorded mp3 which helps develop aural skills. In my book I share a detailed method of working with Think Spanish Magazine that not only improves your macro-pronunciation skills, but also your aural skills and builds vocabulary while integrating all three. It’s a little too convoluted for this blog post. And besides, if I put all the great info from my book into my blog, then nobody would buy the book.
Another tip I will share when working on reading out loud, is to try to say groups of words rather than individual words at a time. A common word grouping involves the verb decir, as in, “he told me” or “they told us”. “Me dijo que…” or “Nos dijeron que…” or anything similar, should all be thought of as a group and combined quickly in speech. There are many similar clauses that you come across frequently. Look for these and turn them into one word or concept in your mind, rather than individual little words.