Is there a difference between the two?
Yes and no.
Yes because aspiring to speak, sound and communicate better is not the same as effecting an accent.
No because constant honing and polishing of English phonetics and stylistics may inadvertently lead to the adoption of a foreign accent; even though more often than not, there is a subconscious or conscious will to do this.
Before we begin indiscriminate diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome, it is important to note some things.
First of all, there is nothing fake or vain about trying to improve yourself- be it your hygiene, your diet, your fashion choices or even your spoken English.
It’s like saying one is vain because they learn to say “chair” instead of “shair”.
Unfortunately, some people find any attempt towards bettering your English irksome and vain; they frown at the adoption of any foreign culture because they believe you ought to speak like a Nigerian and eat indigenous swallow meals with your hands irrespective of the formality of the occasion.
This school of thought preaches pride in culture and language.
As much as I am a proponent of cultural pride, we will be mistaking ignorance for pride if we do not approach the number one international language with the expertise that we ought to.
There oughtn’t to be any shame in seeking to improve oneself.
If you want to be taken seriously as a communication expert and you have a strong indigenous accent, you have to unlearn this accent when speaking English and this doesn’t mean you are fake- it only means you’re restricting the influence of your local accent to your local tongue.
If someone aspires to learn better French other than bonjour monsieur, it doesn’t make them fake, it simply reflects their attempt to be better at something they are poor at.
Seeking for the best things with an average approach in the name of being real reflects a pitiable ordinariness.
Do we then discard our language and culture so that we can take on another man’s?
Far from it; they are not mutually exclusive now are they?
Conversely, the goal of speaking well can get too aspirational; so aspirational that the speaker begins to speak his or her local dialect with a foreign accent even though they have a better command of their local tongue, thereby producing a cacophonous accent.
I can’t forget when an aspirational worship leader once rendered that popular Yoruba worship song as: Ari bidi!, Ara ba da!, Eyin la tobiju!…
It not only interrupted the worship session, it completely ruined it.
Another factor that attracts suspicion of fakeness to one’s efforts of improving intonation is the overarching presence of an established local accent.
Attempting to take on a foreign accent without first unlearning a local accent is like using a perfume without first applying a deodorant.
Before dragging on the weight of expertise of a foreign language, first trim off the excesses of a strong local dialect.
In all, speak English as eloquently as you speak your local language so long as you do not mix up accents.
Speak the very best version of whatever you’re speaking; give the very best performance of the thing that you do.
If you know better, you should do better.