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Tips for Teaching When You Have an Accent

One of our clients recently earned her PhD  after many long, hard years of study.  Since she knew she wanted to pursue a career in academia, she took accent modification and presentation skills training to prepare her for her oral dissertation and job interviews. As busy as she was, she devoted as much time as possible to her independent self-study between sessions. She made tremendous progress and was able to secure a faculty position at a university of her choice.

Although she was a “listener-friendly” speaker by this point, she wanted some pointers to maximize her "understandability"  in the classroom setting.

The following are some useful tips if you or your students are in a similar situation:

  1. Acknowledge your accent and give your students “permission” to request a repetition or clarification if they don’t understand something you said.
  2. Make sure you are FACING THE CLASS while speaking. DO NOT talk while writing on the board or looking at the screen!
  3. Speak at a slightly slower rate than normal. This may be difficult if you are nervous, so be sure to PAUSE after important points, and use deep slow breaths to calm you down.
  4. Practice your lecture ALOUD ahead of time. Make a note of any particularly challenging words, and make sure you are using the correct stress pattern.
  5. If you have to use unfamiliar words that are difficult to pronounce, either write them down or provide additional information or context, e.g., “The test will not be cumulative; in other words, the exam will only cover content from the midterm to the final.”

By following these tips, you will enhance the quality of your presentation skills. Let us know if you have any other suggestions.

Accent Modification "Milestones"

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A lot of adults considering accent modification training subscribe to the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Although it is more difficult to change speech habits after the teen years, with awareness and practice, a successful outcome (sometimes described as listener-friendly speech) is a reasonable, attainable goal. What factors influence individual performance in changing speech behavior?

The following factors must be considered:

• The perceived strength of the accent (vowel and consonant production, intonation patterns, etc.) • Overall English language proficiency • The presence of any cognitive, speech-language or hearing disorders such as dyslexia, ADHD, etc. • Motivation and time devoted to independent practice • Responsiveness to constructive feedback • Current employment situation/responsibilities • Career aspirations • Support network • Insight into communication differences

Clients enrolled in a weekly 12-16 week program typically begin to notice concrete changes at approximately the mid-point of training. At that time, clients may begin to report that they can identify and self-correct speech differences in their own speech. They are also more aware of the speech patterns of others, and report that they are better listeners because they are more tuned in to the subtleties of communication.

At the end of training, clients typically are more consistent with their mainstream sound production, and use intonation patterns that are more in line with native speakers. They often speak more slowly, project their voice more appropriately, and have a greater sense of confidence when speaking to both native and non-native English speakers. They often realize that they no longer have to repeat themselves.

It is important to note that everyone progresses at a different rate, and the end results vary. However, despite the challenging and demanding nature of this type of training, with positive and constructive input, time, and patience, accent training can be a powerful and empowering pursuit.