When I learned English at school (in France), my teachers asked me to make effort to have an "England-like" pronunciation (which was difficult for me).

Today, I use the English language for my work (technical English, mostly) and I noticed that I was often better understood when I did not put effort into my pronunciation.

When speaking English, will you be better understood by most people (English native or not) if you force yourself to pronounce your words in a particular native accent, or if you speak more smoothly in your foreign accent?

Put another way, how much effort should you devote to improving your accent, as opposed to your vocabulary, grammar, or other aspects of the language?

  • 1
    This is slightly subjective, personally it is better to have better pronunciation as everyone has an accent in Britain so people are used to this, whether they are forgiving or not is a different thing. Some people can translate the accent back to a neutral accent in their head when they hear English with a heavy accent.
    – EdChum
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 9:15
  • I think this is a fair question as accent is essential to adequate communication in a language. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 13:30
  • This question belong to ELL.
    – None
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 16:07
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    I think this question is about using a language. Not learning it. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 19:24
  • @bilbo_pingouin I agree. We have quite a few sites about using specific languages, but we have to be especially careful this site doesn't become the de facto place to ask questions about "using language {x}" for any language that does not yet have a site. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


The accent in terms of phonetic prominence is not so important as dynamic accent (also called pitch accent). So the best is to be natural and not to "fake" your accent (the way you're talking—phonemic tone), just talk naturally.

However if we're talking about dynamic accent, it's important that you apply the right stress on the right stressed syllables or words (lexical stress). This is even more important than your mispronunciation. It helps to distinguish similar words. For example, the English word insight is distinguished from incite only by the fact that the stress falls on the first syllable. Another example is that English compound nouns can change their meaning based on stress, such as paper bág, a bag made of paper, and páper bag, a bag for carrying newspapers.

  • Could you not say "páper bag" to mean you wanted a bag made of paper, as opposed to a plastic bag? I don't understand very well your examples in the end. (Are you a native English speaker? If not, could a native share their opinion on my question?)
    – ANeves
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 17:04
  • @ANeves I'm not native, so unfortunately I can't share this. The example about paper was actually taken from the wiki from the provided link, where there are more examples.
    – kenorb
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 17:25
  • @ANeves yes, that's correct, when emphasizing a contrast, the stress will fall on the word being contrasted. That example in the question is correct when nothing's being emphasized or contrasted.
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 19:51
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    Accent also can affect the part of speech (PoS) of a word. For example, protest: noun or verb? ['pro-test] is a noun, [pro-'test] is a verb. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 19:59

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