Here are some tips on learning English from Arnold Schwarzenegger. I recently listened to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show where he interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold is successful and has achieved success in many areas but he is arguably most known for his distinctive voice and accent. Instantly recognizable and extremely imitable, Arnold’s accent is often confused for bad English, but this is not true at all. His English is very proficient and what many people do not realize is that keeping his foreign accent was a deliberate decision to set him apart and make him distinctive.
In the Interview they cover many topics and the whole episode is worth listening to but there are a brief couple of minutes where Arnold talks about language learning and specifically accent and pronunciation and why he deliberately chose NOT to try to lose his foreign accent. You can listen to the whole episode by clicking here and you will find the relevant part at approx 39.20.
The section starts when Tim brings up a conversation he had with Greek born, Arianna Huffington, of the co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post. She was taking ‘accent reduction classes’ when she had a conversation with fellow ex-pat, German born, Henry Kissinger had some tips on learning English when he said “No no no, you want to keep the accent.” He then asks Arnold if there was a point when he realized that his foreign accent was a strength that he did not want to get rid of.
Tips on learning English
Arnold replies: “The objective was not to get rid of the accent. When you take accent removal classes and dialect classes and English classes, that whole combination is designed so that you speak so that everyone understands you. Sometimes foreigners have a tendency to pronounce a word so wrong or with such a wrong emphasis that people don’t know what they are talking about and then when you correct them and they say it the right way you totally understand it and you are fine. So the trick is to learn how to enunciate and how to speak the language well and how not to rush and throw words together which makes it almost impossible to understand. So Henry Kissinger is right. Everyone will always remember Henry Kissinger because of his accent as well as his brilliance, and I think everyone will always remember Arianna Huffington for her accent as well as for being this woman that set out this goal of creating this magazine and being highly successful and being politically oriented and getting involved with policy, but there are many of those but what separates her is her accent, you know the way she talks.”
Students often come to me asking for tips on learning English and say they want to learn to speak with a British accent. I am happy to help them with this in my classes but I have always also tried to get them to realise that speaking with correct pronunciation so that you will be understood and losing their own accent are two different things. Learning good pronunciation is much more important learning a foreign accent and also much easier.
So my tips on learning English to people learning English are these; remember that good pronunciation and accent are two different things and as long as your English is being understood without difficulty, your foreign accent could actually be an asset that you do not want to lose.
Tim Ferriss is the author of several books about productivity, effective learning, investing and entrepreneurship. Titles include The Four Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body and The Four Hour Chef. He has also written about language acquisition and has many tips on learning English as I believe he speaks Japanese and Spanish as well as his native English.