How to use face masks to help your pronunciation & accent practice

We’re starting to make some headway in the coronavirus pandemic: vaccination rates are going up and lockdowns are coming down, but many of us will still be wearing masks for a while. Here’s how to turn that into an opportunity for extra accent and pronunciation practice.

Recently, a Japanese student of mine mentioned that he has been using his mask as a way to practice while walking in the street. Japan is generally known as a slightly more reserved and privacy-oriented country. As such, speaking to yourself while practicing your accent in public may attract a few strange looks, or at the very least make you a bit more self conscious.

However, now that he’s wearing a mask everyday, he has found that he feels less self-conscious, because 1) the mask muffles his voice, and 2) the mask covers his mouth so people don’t know or won’t think he’s muttering to himself. This way he’s been able to use his daily walks (e.g. during lunch, tea breaks, the walk to and from the train station) as extra practice.

How this helps your accent reduction journey

This was quite ingenious. I actually mentioned this to some of my students and now there’s a significant group of students who get to squeeze in a bit more practice into their days. While this helps many of my shyer, more introverted students the most, I think most of us can benefit from feeling less self conscious when undertaking an already difficult task such as accent modification in a foreign (and oftentimes, confusing) language.

As we know consistent practice is important in the accent reduction journey. The accent reduction journey is a long-term process. The only way to improve your accent long-term is to consistently practice. Only through consistent practice can you train your muscle memory to the point that you don’t need to consciously think about how to pronounce the sound correctly. It will then just be a part of you. Having another opportunity to practice your accent streamlines that process further so you can achieve your goal quicker.

Ways to practice while out with a mask on

With your mask on, and your fear of social judgement off, you can do almost any sort of practice. Here are some ideas to

1. Imagine or reenact a conversation you had previously with a friend or a colleague.

When imagining a conversation, you can speak more slowly and your imaginary conversation partner will wait for you to finish without interruption. Since he/she is imaginary, you won’t feel judged and you can really focus on the right types of sounds, intonation, expressions, and other features

2. Look at random phrases and say them out loud or translate them.

This can be quite fun and easy because you can get punchy slogans from advertisements and whatnot. Also it’s quick and easy to do.

3. Shadow a song or a podcast.

Walking while listening is the quintessential walking activity. While walking, you can try to follow the lyrics to a song or better still, a podcast. With a podcast, you can hear real speech and try to follow along. Some audio services such as YouTube premium allow you to slow down the speed.

Turn masks into an advantage

So while masks can be inconvenient, they can also open up opportunities to fit the overarching winning strategy of the accent reduction journey: that of consistent practice. So next time you go out and mask up, nobody knows you’re actually talking to yourself. Go out with a mask, come home a little more native-sounding!

Linguist • accent coach • instructional designer |