Ruben Adery is a pronunciation and dialect coach who helps language learners, actors, singers, etc. develop native-like foreign accents in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Italian. I first met him at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava where he gave a talk titled The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Imitating Foreign Accents to Help Master Any Language. The content of the talk itself was great, but the really impressive part was that he had the audience fooled for the first five minutes that he was from Israel when he is in fact a native English speaker from Los Angeles! As Ruben likes to say:

“Accents speak louder than words!”

In the interview, we discuss:

  • How Ruben’s love of impersonations and accents lead to a life of linguistics and languages.
  • Why pronunciation tends to be so difficult for adult language learners.
  • The difference between descriptive and prescriptive pronunciation.
  • Ruben’s thoughts on using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) in language learning.
  • The magic of leveraging spelling rules and pronunciation patterns in one’s native language when learning a foreign language.
  • Why you can’t pronounce something correctly until you can hear it correctly.
  • The three core pillars of accurate pronunciation that Ruben focuses on with students and coaching clients: ① sound, ② rhythm, and ③ linking.
  • The importance of choosing one specific dialect (e.g. Costa Rican Spanish), especially in the early stages of learning a language.
  • The importance of making a good impression and setting the tone in the first 10 seconds with accent, word choice, topics, etc. For example, saying ¿Pura vida, mae? (“What’s up, dude?”) to someone in Costa Rica will change the dynamic of the interaction.
  • Why immitating an accent accurately is the ultimate form of flattery.
  • Ruben’s top tips for learning more native-like pronunciation and reducing phonetic interference from one’s native language.
  • Why you should choose a specific individual’s voice, mannerisms, and phrases to immitate in your target language.
  • The power of adopting an “alter ego” when learning a foreign language, especially when it comes to developing native-like accents, mannerisms, etc.
  • Why speaking a foreign language is a performance.

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