Thanks to Sonia Gil's Facebook page, I came across this TIME Ideas article, How to Speak Like A Native.
As usual with reports in the popular media it is hard for the layman to know the truth. Journalists quote studies and academics and yet they seem to be able to present opposing viewpoints. I am not in a position to confirm the validity of the studies quoted in this article but never the less it is very interesting, and as a language learner, rather reassuring and encouraging.
The article says:
...new research suggests that we would make better progress, and be understood more easily by our conversational partners, if we abandoned a perfect accent as our goal in the language learning process.
It goes on:
...traditional language instruction held up native-like pronunciation as the ideal, enforced by doses of “fear, embarrassment and conformity,”
In essence the article suggests that we should be focussing on comprehensibility rather than the 'unrealistic' ideal of native-like pronunciation which can create stress and be discouraging to language learners.
What a relief! Whilst I have long held the belief that the primary reason for learning a language is about communication this article gives me permission to not beat myself up so much regarding my pronunciation. My pronunciation is not particularly good and yet I have found that I can adequately communicate with native French speakers across a broad range of situations. It is no longer primarily problems of communication that drive me to want to improve my pronunciation, but rather pride. There are a however few notable exceptions. I don't think that I will ever be able to ask for a train ticket to Rouen without SNCF staff staring at me blankly. I definitely have to learn to pronunciate 'Rouen' in a manner that is more comprehensible to native speakers.