Many nonnative English speakers have common questions about what it means to “modify” or "reduce" an accent and how to successfully go about the process. Here are some FAQs and our perspective on these inquiries: 1. What is accent modification?
Accent modification (accent reduction, accent neutralization, pronunciation training, etc.) is a systematic process of identifying and adjusting the sound production and intonation patterns of non-native speakers so they can assume a more mainstream, North American style of speaking.
2. What are the goals and objectives of this training?
In most situations, the goal is for the individual to become a more effective, understandable, and confident speaker. The objective is not to necessarily take away an accent, rather it is to add a more neutral style of speaking, that can be turned on or off as the situation and personal need dictates.
3. Who can benefit from this type of training?
Individuals from all professional levels and all language backgrounds who are not clearly understood and confident in various personal and professional speaking situations would benefit from this training.
4. Why does it seem so hard to modify an accent?
Many people try to address this themselves and find it extremely difficult because they try to let spelling guide their pronunciation. Unfortunately, English spelling is very un-phonetic, and many words are not spelled the way they sound. Think of: thought, through, thorough, laugh, beard, bird, heard, word, sword, listen, whistle, etc. Targeted training helps you break through the spelling barriers and approach your pronunciation practice in a more systematic way.
5. How long does it take to see results?
This depends on a number of factors, including how long English has been spoken, how many daily opportunities someone has to use their English, the perceived strength of the accent, the presence of other communication challenges such as grammar, and how much time is devoted to training and independent practice. Although one may be motivated to change speech patterns to minimize embarrassment, one's personal identify is deeply associate with speech, and may be hard to let go.
Typically, speech can sound more understandable between one and three months, but results vary greatly from one person to another. As you may have noticed, young children can modify an accent much faster.
6. What makes someone have an accent?
An individual's pronunciation of English is influenced by the habitual lip and tongue movements of the first language, in addition to other factors, such as the sound repertoire and intonation patterns of their native language. Exercises to relax the oral musculature and alter tongue positioning can help the individual produce vowels and consonants with a neutral accent.
7. What is the best way to practice what is taught in class/sessions?
It is best to practice several times per day for brief 15-20 minute sessions using your training materials which may consist of workbooks, audio CDs, CD-ROMS, online platforms, or other sources. If possible, find a practice partner, such as a friend, spouse, or co-worker. Video or audio recording your practice helps with self-monitoring and self-correction.
8. What results can I expect?
Trainers use different measures to assess before-after progress. In addition to quantitative measures, most individuals report that they are taken more seriously, have increased self-confidence, an enhanced professional image, increased work productivity, improved interpersonal relationships, and professional advancement opportunities. They also say that they have an increased awareness of troublesome sounds and they no longer have to repeat themselves.
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