It is often fascinating and fun to listen to your favorite actor or actress speaking with a different accent. It can be surprising — and even shocking — to find out that a person you could have sworn is American may actually be from the United Kingdom or that the actress who sounded like she was from Boston grew up in Australia.
How are they able to mimic others so easily? For some, imitating an accent is as effortless as taking a breath, but for others, it is a different case. Most people require many hours of training to modify their accents for certain roles. The approaches used to acquire or change an accent reach beyond the television and film industry into other professions, such as finance, law, and international business, though many people choose to reduce or modify their accent, simply because they want to.
We spoke with Dr. Jessica Galgano, executive director and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, to learn more about the therapies and techniques that allow professionals and everyday people to reduce or modify their accents.
How Do Accents Develop?
Within a language, there are many variations of dialects and accents that can be regional or foreign. Accents develop naturally and can reveal regional or cultural variations about an individual.
Accents are differences in spoken language that have differences in its phonology (sounds), prosody (the patterns of stress and intonation in a language), rate, and fluency, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Regional accents are differences you may notice between a speaker from Boston and someone from Alabama. They both use the same language but sound different when they speak. Foreign accents, or national origin accents, are associated with speakers who are speaking a language other than their native one.
“Sounds in one language may not exist in another; thus, a non-native speaker may replace unfamiliar speech sounds with a more familiar one from their native sound inventory,” Dr. Galgano said. “This results in speaking in a manner that reflects the conventions of someone’s native language.”
Accent Reduction Classes
While accents are unique and makeup part of your identity, you may ultimately choose to take accent training classes to reduce or modify your accent so family, friends, or coworkers can better understand you. Additionally, accent modification is also common in business settings and for actors and actresses who are preparing for a specific role.
In occupations with high communication demands, people may seek accent modification services to increase their communicative efficacy and job performance. In more personal settings, people may feel less confident in social situations if they feel others have difficulty understanding them.
“Many times, a person may want to produce speech in a different way but does not know what to do to make that happen,” Dr. Galgano said. “A comprehensive evaluation and goal setting with a strong treatment approach and home practice program will help one achieve those goals.” Once targets are established, your SLP will train your auditory discrimination (your ability to recognize, compare, and distinguish between different sounds) and ability to produce target sounds before implementing those sounds into speech. Rate, stress pattern, and intonation are also targeted to target a more natural sound.
“It is important to note that no accent or dialect is superior or inferior. As a result, the goal is not to ‘lose’ an accent. Instead, the focus is on reducing or modifying it. Some clients choose to completely ‘reduce’ their accent and adapt to a regional standard, while others instead opt to ‘neutralize’ their accent. Whatever your specific needs are, your speech pathologist will provide support, education, and coaching every step of the way.”
Accent Reduction Techniques
Our SLPs follow an evidence-based treatment hierarchy, which starts by training your auditory discrimination. Once you can compare and pick up on specific sounds, you will then move on to training target sounds in isolation, in a word, in a phrase, in a sentence, in reading, and in a conversation.
Our staff is trained in using multisensory cues and prompts, such as diagrams, models, and tactile cues, to teach articulatory placement and elicit target sounds. In other words, they will teach you how to position your lips, mouth, teeth, or tongue to create certain sounds. Your SLP will also use techniques such as practicing conversation in different communicative contexts to build up your confidence and skill.
Mastering Rhythm and Pronunciation
Rhythm and pronunciation contribute significantly to an accent. These two aspects differ across languages, and it is common for non-native speakers to apply the learned conventions of their native language to the learned language.
“Languages such as English are considered stress-timed, meaning that some syllables or words are produced with a greater ‘stress’ to communicate prominence,” Dr. Galgano noted. “A non-native speaker of English may not follow these rhythmic conventions and have difficulty communicating or understanding information when the rhythm is used to convey added meaning – learning to use the appropriate stress pattern in words and sentences when speaking can make all of the difference when speaking another language!”
Regarding pronunciation, a non-native speaker may have acquired all the sounds present in a language but still pronounce words that differ from the standard production if they are not familiar with pronunciation patterns.
Dr. Galgano provided the following example of the word “letter.” Although the word features the letter “t,” the standard American accent pronounces the “t” in a less prominent manner than, say, the standard British accent. In this regard, becoming familiar with both the rhythm and pronunciation patterns of the target accent contribute to the success of accent reduction therapy.
How Long Does It Take to Reduce an Accent?
While there is no universal answer for how long or how many sessions you need to modify or neutralize an accent, your SLP will work closely with you to reach your goals.
Consistency of practice, the intensity of sessions, and your particular goals ultimately determine the projected timeline of reducing an accent. This is why attending sessions regularly and adhering to the home program provided by your SLP are crucial for achieving your goals on time.
“Just like acquiring a new skill, such as playing the violin, or achieving fitness goals at the gym, consistent, dedicated practice is crucial to successfully modify your accent,” Dr. Galgano said.
Reduce or Modify Your Accent Today
Contact Open Lines today by phone at (212) 430-6800, by email at [email protected], or through our contact form. If you are ready to take the next steps with reducing your accent, you can request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options.