Why You Probably Can’t Identify Your Voice in a New Language

When we listen to the sound of our own recorded voices, most of us have no trouble recognizing ourselves. We usually think that we don’t really sound like that, but we almost always recognize ourselves.

Now here’s the amazing and fun part. When you learn a second language, you won’t recognize your own voice, and neither will any of your friends. It is a chance to have a real “second life.”

The qualities that make your voice sound like you are almost completely lost when you learn to speak a foreign language. I am a native speaker of English, and I have listened to enough recordings of myself to have a very good idea of what I sound like; but a couple of days ago I found some test recordings of German numbers on this web site, and I had no idea who had recorded them. After a lot of wondering, I finally figured out that I had recorded them. I was unable to recognize my own voice when I was speaking German!

People often don’t sound the same in their first language as they do in their second language. I’ve met people who had professional, radio-quality voices in one language but who sounded very rough in another language that they spoke very well.

This is good news for language learners. First of all, it’s fun to have an entirely different “you” that you can switch to by speaking a foreign language. Second, most people can learn to sound much better in their second language than they do in their first language.

If you don’t sound good in your first language, it may be that your mother had a raspy voice and you learned to talk like her. But that’s no reason for you not to sound good in your second language.

Imagine for a minute that you were adopted as a small child (not yet talking) by the American actor James Earl Jones, who has one of the best voices in show business. Don’t you think you would sound better today if he had been the one to teach you to talk? Of course you would.

Most people can learn to sound better in their second language than they do in their first language. Relax when you are learning the new words, and try to copy the teachers exactly. Remember to say the words out loud, first after the teacher and then at the same time as the teacher. Saying the words at the same time as the teacher will help you get the speed, the stress, and the accent just right.

No matter whether you sound better in your second language or not, I can guarantee that you will sound like a totally different person!

It’s one more great reason to learn a foreign language.

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