06/12/2014 12:42 pm ET | Updated Aug 12, 2014

Why Having a Horrible Accent Isn't So Bad

If you are afraid to plunge into a new language and make lots of mistakes, you'll never be able to learn it. The biggest fear most people have has to do with their accent. And I understand why. How many Parisians didn't try to correct me when I was first learning French? How many language purists don't post on my blogs criticizing this or that minor accent point? The result is that we hear way too much about accent and way too little about what really matters; communication. When learning to walk, babies first need to learn to stand up, then take steps, then learn to walk, and eventually, try to run.

I remember being in China. I had only been there a couple of weeks and my Mandarin was very basic. I was obsessed with sounding perfect and having the right accent. I needed to go to the supermarket, so I got on a cab and told the driver to take me to the "Carrefour" (pronounced jia-le-fu). I was feeling great about my accent, until the driver pulled up at a "Gāo'ěrfū" (pronounced gao-ar-fu) (golf) course.

That's why you should never worry about an accent when you're first learning a language. What you say is more important than how you say it. As long as you are being understood, you are on the right track.

First, get the basics down so that you get some time to practice. You need to put together words, and then expressions. As you learn, what you want is to put together sentences in the new language as if it was second nature, without overthinking it. Worrying about your accent will get in the way of that. After you get very familiar with the new language, then you can worry about how it sounds.

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