Advice for native Russian speakers
My fellow Russian-born English speaker,
Anyone who started using English after the age of twelve will experience some problems with it, despite perfect grammar and impressive vocabulary; the dreaded English pronunciation rears its proverbial head.
You may occasionally miss the meaning of a sputtered phrase or two, especially if the native speaker's speech is heavily affected by a regional accent or social colloquial patterns. You may also be occasionally called upon to repeat what you have just said, "Come again?" and "Say again?" or "Pardon me?" ad infinitum.
Yes, this happens to the best of us even in our native Russian, but you know exactly what I’m talking about, don't you?
We all at some point in our life get a feeling that the impact of our communication in English and our professional and social lives in English-speaking countries could drastically improve “if we only had better accent.”
Your ability to pronounce English phrases “better” is directly correlated with your ability to comprehend fast speech of the natives: if you cannot hear it you are not going to pronounce it right, and vice versa.
Also, the ability to speak English with more native-like accent and comprehend it more easily will positively affect your language learning curve in all other important areas: grammar, vocabulary, and culture.
So, what are you going to do about it?
Well, study English phonetics and phonology - of course! If you are older than 12 or 13, there's no any other way. (Kids, on the other hand, pick up "correct" accents easily without visible effort.) We, adults, have to approach the problem academically.
There are only three options here:
Hiring a professional speech therapist
Taking English pronunciation classes (premium or free - at a local community college, for example)
Purchasing an appropriate multimedia material
Been there, done that...
I, too, paid $75 per one-hour session to a speech therapist in Chicago. I took some acting classes in Florida, which started with English phonetics - yes, even the native speakers of English benefit from the ability to describe and analyze the sounds of their own language. And I also spent about one thousand dollars a couple of multimedia pronunciation courses.
Now, folks, it all actually worked.
The caveat is: it wasn't that awfully efficient. Years and money I spent could have served me better. I could have been where I am now, a modest yet noticeable achievement, much sooner.
First off, the speech therapist (by definition) is trained to correct speech patterns of physically challenged individuals, kids with inborn speech defects, individuals recovering from stroke or injuries. To supplement their income, speech therapists often take on immigrants, offering "accent reduction services." Yet a foreign accent is not a speech defect of any shape or form, it's a deeply rooted habit, nothing else. (Just like a thick regional native accent in English.) As a rule, the therapist doesn't speak other languages and almost never speak our native Russian - what would they know about "our" problems?
The same thing goes for just about anything else. Classes and multimedia courses are designed by native speakers, correctly identify symptoms, yet offer little efficacy in "treatment." Every treatment should be native language centric, Russian in our case. Well yes, some of them claim they do address specific problems of various foreign lingual groups. They even often include some modules with enticing titles, like "Typical mistakes of Russian speakers in English". It sounds good but doesn't really work. It didn't work for me. Alas, not all teachers are born equal. Some possess that talent of explaining things the right way, which leaves no questions or doubts, but most don't.
That's why I, a native Russian speaker, developed an interactive multimedia course specifically for my fellow "ruskies." It is entirely based on my personal experiences. I amalgamated the best working ideas from university classes, acting schools, multimedia courses with my own tricks and practical findings.