Do you find yourself apologizing for your accent or your English before you’ve even started a conversation?
As non-native speakers, we may feel the need to acknowledge that we don’t speak with a perfect accent, or that we make mistakes because we’re still learning the language.
To be perfectly honest with you, I used to do it too!
For many years, I’d point out that I have an obvious accent in Spanish every single time someone noticed that I was a non-native Spanish speaker.
I know you do it as well. Here’s a question I received from a member of this community: “Is it a good idea to start a conversation with ‘Sorry about my English?'”
In this video, we’re going to talk about why you need to stop saying “Sorry about my accent” or “Sorry for my English.”
We’ll discuss the reasons you feel like you should apologize, as well as how bringing attention to your mistakes can negatively affect the conversation.
At the end, you’ll learn what you can say instead if you really feel like you have to acknowledge your accent or your English.
Let’s get started!
#1 Your accent is already obvious to native speakers.
The first reason you need to stop apologizing for your accent is that it’s already obvious.
The truth is, native speakers can pick up on accents in milliseconds and even in speech played backwards.
As I share in my video on why we care about accents, research has shown that we are really, really, really good at picking up the most minor details that reveal that you’re a non-native speaker.
Not everyone is an accent coach like me analyzing the fine details of your speech, but they can still pick up that you speak with an accent.
Even if they don’t notice it immediately, they will definitely notice later on in the conversation.
There’s no reason to bring extra attention to your accent when it’s already obvious to the person who’s listening to you.
#2 Bringing up your accent highlights your mistakes.
That brings me to the next reason why you need to stop saying “Sorry about my accent”:
When you bring up the fact that you have an accent, it highlights it even more and makes it more distracting.
They might even start listening for your mistakes.
Think about when you learn a new word, or you notice a certain color car driving along on the highway.
When someone points something out to you, you start paying more attention to it and you start seeing it everywhere.
Someone may have barely noticed your accent before, but when you bring it up, they’re going to start noticing all the mistakes you’re making and what sounds a little off.
That’s the way our brains work.
#3 You should focus on communicating clearly and effectively instead.
Here’s another reason why you need to stop apologizing for your English: You need to focus your attention on communicating clearly and effectively.
Your accent is not the problem.
Your grammar and vocabulary mistakes are not that terrible.
You don’t need to completely eliminate your accent in order to communicate clearly.
In fact, you could have a perfect accent and still not speak well.
Rather than worrying about your accent or your mistakes, focus on speaking to be understood more easily.
You often hear me talk about focusing on the aspects of your accent that will help you speak more clearly and be more easily understood.
It’s your responsibility to deliver your message in the clearest way possible so that people can follow what you’re saying.
This is totally possible even if you have an accent and you make mistakes.
If you communicate clearly, and you’re engaging with the other person and you’re finding ways to connect, after a while, they’re not going to pay attention to your accent or your mistakes.
They’re going to be listening to you and what you have to say.
#4 You may be apologizing for your English as an excuse for not trying.
Another reason is that you may be apologizing for your accent or your mistakes as an excuse for not trying to communicate clearly.
Make sure that you’re not tempted to apologize to justify not putting in the effort.
If you apologize in advance for having an accent or making mistakes, you may not try as hard during the conversation to communicate what you mean.
You may just chalk it up to the fact that you don’t speak English perfectly, rather than putting the effort into making sure your message and ideas are clear and easily understood.
Learning to speak another language is definitely hard, but don’t justify the fact that you don’t express yourself as well as you like to by apologizing for your accent or your English.
Put in the effort to have a good conversation.
#5 You’re used to putting a lot of emphasis on accuracy when speaking.
One more reason why you may feel the need to apologize for your English is if you grew up in a culture that emphasizes accuracy, either in your native language or in your English classes.
You need to remember that we all make mistakes when we’re learning. In fact, it’s basically a requirement.
Making mistakes is proof that you’re trying and that you’re willing to fail.
As you continue to push beyond your current level of English, you’re going to make mistakes because you’re going to be trying things that are more complex, or you’re going to be focusing on fixing parts of your accent.
Rather than apologizing because you know that you’re going to make mistakes, own your mistakes.
Remember that they’re a natural part of the learning process, and you should feel very proud of yourself.
#6 Apologizing makes you too aware of your mistakes.
You may feel the need to apologize for your accent or your English because you feel self-conscious.
However, bringing it up at the beginning of the conversation may actually make you more aware of the mistakes that you’re making.
Like I said a moment ago, focusing attention on the mistakes you’re making can make the other person listen for them and pay more attention to them.
The same thing goes for you!
If you immediately apologize for your accent, you’re going to be paying attention to all of your pronunciation mistakes, the moments when you feel a little tongue-tied, or when things don’t flow the way you want them to.
You’ll start focusing on what you’re doing wrong, rather than the content of the conversation.
In fact, this means you may stop listening to the other person because you’re focusing more on yourself.
Rather than worrying about your accent or your English, focus on the other person, not what you’re saying.
There’s a time and a place where it can be super useful to self-correct, but when you’re in the middle of a conversation that you want to be having, that’s not the right moment.
#7 You do not need to apologize for being a non-native speaker.
Another reason that you need to stop saying “Sorry for my English” is that you do not need to apologize for being a non-native English speaker.
We don’t choose the language or languages that we learn growing up.
Learning a foreign language requires work, effort, dedication, and focus.
You should be proud of the progress you’ve made in English.
Think about where you started in your very first English class. There’s probably a night and day difference between how you sounded then and how you sound now!
Even just a few years ago, English may have been harder for you, or it may have been harder to understand you because you weren’t focusing on your accent.
Remember to celebrate all the progress you’ve made!
Don’t forget that your accent makes you unique. It’s part of your story.
As one of my clients said, it’s part of your beauty. It’s part of what makes you a colorful, interesting human being.
I often talk about how you want to feel like yourself when speaking English.
That doesn’t mean having a perfect accent or sounding exactly like a native speaker.
It means finding the place where you feel confident and able to communicate who you are and what you want to say.
Being able to speak another language is absolutely amazing and it’s really good for you.
Even more importantly, learning another language enables you to connect with people from other cultures and learn about them and their stories.
In other words, speaking another language opens your mind. This is an amazing gift!
#8 Remember that you’re bilingual or multilingual.
On that same note, remember that you’re bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual.
Many native English speakers are often monolingual. We’re notorious for not speaking other languages.
In fact, native English speakers are often considered bad communicators now that English is a global language. They don’t often make the effort to speak so that people understand them.
Native speakers have it easy. They don’t have to learn English and they don’t always appreciate that fact.
And like I mentioned a moment ago, learning another language can have a super positive impact on your life.
As far as I’m concerned, monolingual native speakers are totally missing out.
Remember, if someone’s pointing out the fact that you have an accent or you make mistakes, they’re usually doing it for one of two reasons.
They may be trying to bring you down, to make you feel less confident or insecure, or they may simply be jealous.
The other reason is that they’re bringing it up because they want to hear about you and your story.
Like it or not, the fact that you’re from another country can be a conversation starter.
Most of the time when people commented on my accent in Spanish, they were curious about me.
They wanted to know why I learned their language or why I was living in their country.
Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, assume that people have the best intentions.
Look at this as an opportunity to connect and learn more about each other.
#9 Native speakers have accents and make mistakes too.
Another reason that you need to stop apologizing for your English is that native speakers also have accents, definitely make mistakes, and don’t always communicate well.
They just don’t judge themselves as harshly as you do.
I remember talking to one of my clients who really wanted to sound like a native English speaker.
She said that she doesn’t care when she makes mistakes in her native language because it’s her native language and she feels confident about how well she speaks.
But in English she was definitely concerned about every word that came out of her mouth.
And the truth is, many native speakers will admit that you probably speak English better than they do.
I remember walking into a tourism office with one of my native Spanish speaking friends. The person asked him if I understood what he was saying. He responded that I speak Spanish better than he does!
The same thing goes for you.
You probably understand and use the language better than a lot of native English speakers.
#10 Apologizing for your English puts the other person in a weird position.
The last reason you need to stop apologizing for your accent or your English mistakes is that it puts the other person in a weird position.
When you’re pointing out the fact that you have a strong accent or you’re apologizing constantly for every little tiny mistake, it almost forces the other person to say, “It’s not that bad,” or “Your English is fine.”
They may feel obligated to comfort you or make you feel better about the way you sound when speaking.
Do you really want to be fishing for compliments? Probably not.
Try to focus the conversation on something that’s more interesting and engaging for both of you.
What to Say Instead of Apologizing for Your Accent or Your English
Now that we’ve talked about all these reasons why you should stop apologizing for your accent or your English, let’s talk about what to say instead.
But first, ask yourself what your reason is for saying anything at all.
Why do you even want to say anything about your accent or your English or your mistakes?
Do you really need to point it out?
Like we discussed, bringing up your accent can be a reaction to feeling self-conscious, insecure or less confident.
You don’t always have to acknowledge your feelings or worry about what the other person is thinking.
Before you say anything about your accent or your English, consider whether it’s really necessary.
Make Sure Your Meaning is Clear
If you feel like you’re mentioning your accent or your English because you want to make sure your meaning is clear, here’s what you can say instead:
- Let me know if you need me to repeat anything.
- Let me know if anything is unclear.
- I’m happy to clarify anything if you’re not sure what I said. I’m happy to clarify anything if you’re not sure what I said.
In this way, you’re asking them to participate in the conversation and engage with you.
These statements are a little more complex and a little more involved, and they tell the other person that your most important priority is your meaning.
They also sound more confident, more fluent, and more natural.
More Natural Ways to Say “Sorry About My English”
If you do end up deciding that you want to say something about your accent or your English because they pointed it out or because you just feel like you should acknowledge the elephant in the room, here’s what you can say instead:
My English is a little rusty.
This expression shows a little insider cultural knowledge because we usually talk about rusty cars or rusty machinery.
The idea is that the gears in your brain aren’t turning quite as well as they once used to because you haven’t had practice with the language.
Here’s another one:
I’m a little out of practice.
By mentioning the word “practice,” you’re reminding the other person that speaking English is a skill that you learned.
If you don’t have tons of opportunities to speak it, it may not go as well until you get used to using your language skills again.
Said with a smile, it shows the other person that you’re hoping you’ll have the chance to practice in this conversation.
Let’s talk about another one:
It’s been a while since I spoke English regularly.
Like the previous example, this shows that you may not have been using English as much as you would like. It also sparks the other person’s curiosity.
They may want to know what’s happened since the time you did speak English more regularly.
You can also say:
My English is a work in progress.
This reminds the other person that you’re in the process of learning and that you’re going to continue to learn after this conversation.
It’s a good reminder that we are always growing and we always have more to learn.
As I mentioned, all of these statements leave the conversation more open.
There’s the opportunity to talk about why you haven’t been practicing, when you used to speak English more, or what your plans are right now.
What to Ask When Someone Mentions Your Accent or Mistakes
If someone points out the fact that you have an accent, or you’re making mistakes as a non-native speaker, you can turn the conversation around.
Ask them a question to learn more about them. Ask them if they’ve ever been to your home country or region:
- Have you ever been to Brazil?
- Have you ever visited Asia?
- Have you ever traveled to Africa?
You can also find out if they speak any other languages.
This is a good way to judge whether or not they’re criticizing you or they’re just curious.
When you ask these questions, be sure to keep your intonation friendly and approachable. These questions can sound sarcastic or accusatory if you’re not careful.
- Have you ever studied another language?
- Do you speak any other languages?
- Have you learned any other languages?
Whether the other person mentions your accent or you feel like you should point it out, try to find a way that you can bring it back to connection.
Remember, it’s not about your accent, your mistakes, or the fact that your English isn’t perfect.
Focusing on how you’re communicating your message rather than how it sounds will help you connect better in conversations.
We’ll talk even more about speaking clearly to be more easily understood soon!
Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve ever apologized for your accent or your English. How will you handle that situation next time?
Be sure to check out this video on how to handle comments about your accent and understand why we care about accents anyway.
If you need to clarify what you mean, here are the expressions you need to do so naturally.