What is an accent?
An accent is the unique way that speech is pronounced by a group of people speaking the same language, that sounds foreign. Accents can impede communication and make speakers sound non-native. Accents are usually grouped as:
- Regional Accents—for example, people who are from Newfoundland or Alberta often sound different than people who are from Ontario. People from Arnprior can sound different from residents of Ottawa.
- Foreign Accents—for example, someone who was raised speaking English will sound different than someone who was raised speaking Cantonese and learned English as an adult.
Most of us have accents.
The most common cause of accent is because English is not one’s first language.
Accent reduction and accent modification are two terms, which are synonymous.
Contributions of speech and intonation to sounding foreign:
One may speak a second language quite well yet still have an accent. Contributors to accent for people who speak English well are:
- Intonation of words
- Intonation of phrases
- Intonation of sentences
- Vowel production
- Consonant production
- Sound patterns misapplied from native language to English
- Non-mastery of tacit phonological rules: ie voicing, unreleased stop consonants
Contributions of language to sounding foreign:
- Grammar: Russian (articles)
- Learning Models: (visual)
Other contributors to sounding foreign:
- Rate of speech (speed)
- Resonance and Voice
- Nonverbal communication
- Coping skills
- Turns of phrase, idioms
Consequences of an untreated accent: communication, social, emotional
Communication is the ultimate goal of speech and language. To the extent that our messages lack clarity our listeners cannot understand us. If comprehension of our speech is lacking, then communication has not occurred, resulting in miscommunication.
Having a prominent accent may have negative effects on job performance, educational advancement, and everyday life activities. An accent may also negatively impact your self-esteem if you are having difficulty communicating because of an accent. People (listeners) are often distracted by accent, thus focusing on your accent more than on what you are trying to say.
Not being understood has devastating results in both the work place and in clients’ personal lives. For these reasons, people often want to modify or change their accent.
Most frequent responses when I conduct a social/demographic interview with a client is comments such as:
- I am always on the side lines; I listen more than speak
- People mistake my intentions and mood
- I was not cut out to be an immigrant, I don’t have what it takes
- My job is on the line
- I am constantly overlooked for promotions
- I don’t interview for positions that require greater communication skills
- I always feel less intelligent than I really am
- I get upset when I see a quizzical look on peoples faces
- I hate it when people pretend to understand me
- I get embarrassed when people ask me to repeat
- I have most difficulty with the telephone
- I have trouble laughing at my errors
Can I change my accent?
Absolutely. It takes work, perseverance, dedication, practice, some auditory/language/ imitative talent, and most importantly the right learning tools and resources. Also one must be relaxed, learn to be patient and be willing to take risks and make mistakes. Laughter is important. Adults learn best when they are not anxious and comfortable.
Why a Speech-Language Pathologist?
A qualified Speech-Language Pathologist, trained in both assessing as well as treating accent is a best-practice guideline.
SLPs differ from teachers, instructors, ESL teachers and the like in several ways:
- Masters Degree in Human Communication Disorders and Sciences
- Advanced knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, linguistics, phonetics, phonology and voice production as they relate to speech production
- Vast knowledge of both normal as well as disordered communication
- Use a therapeutic approach to treating accent which is more effective than a teaching approach
Who seeks accent reduction?
- Non-native English speakers
- Native speakers who want to reduce a regional accent
- Business professionals who want to improve their communication skills for their careers
- Actors who need to learn a new accent for a role or performance
- Gender issues
What can I expect from The Speech, Voice and Language Clinic?
A thorough evaluation of your individual speech pattern and profile. The speech-language pathologist will evaluate your:
- Sound pronunciation (consonants and vowels)
- Stress, rhythm, and intonation of speech
- Screening of grammar, vocabulary
- Fluidity, comfort with language
- Overall effectiveness as a speaker and communication partner
- Voice, resonance and vocal performance
In testing you will be asked to read words, sentences, and paragraphs. For this reason it is important to have basic reading skills.
The Speech-Language Pathologist will also listen to your speech in conversation.
Once this information is collected and analyzed, the Speech-Language Pathologist will identify what changes can be made in your speech pattern to modify your accent and improve your overall communication. A set of goals based on your individual needs will be developed. Often, goals that will either make the greatest difference or are easiest for the client to acquire are targeted first. Therapy sessions may be provided to individuals or small groups. At the end of treatment, a reassessment will be undertaken and a progress report on each individual as well as verbal feedback will be provided.
Is there one accent that is better than another?
Is an accent a speech disorder?
Only if it severely impairs communication.
Can it be treated as a speech disorder with a physician referral?
Will I sound like somebody else at the end of my training?
No. You sound like yourself, only clearer.
How much change can I expect?
It depends on the presenting accent, the skills of the client, time spent practicing, etc.
Will I sound like a native Canadian?
Only if your accent is mild and your command of English is good. For more heavily accented people, the goal is to get closer to sounding native over time.
Mastering Effective English Communication: Intonation Patterns, Vowel system, Consonant Variations. Lorna D. Sikorski, M.A.
A Practical English Grammar. A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet (text and worksheets).
Idioms 1 and 2. Public Service Commission of Canada.
Gambits. Public Service Commission of Canada.
Improving Voice and Articulation. Hilda B. Fisher.
Various handouts and resources developed in house by Mary-Anne Zubrycky, Registered Speech-Language Pathologist.
What Clients Require:
Each client should own a quality dictionary: i.e. Oxford, Webster, Funk and Wagnall's. A recording device is required for home practice.