We have all come across people who speak with accents. In a college math class with a professor from another country, on the phone with a customer service representative at an outsourced call center, at work with a co-worker born and raised in a different part of the country. We ourselves might even be that person.
You may have asked yourself, “Why does that person have an accent, even though they are speaking English fluently?” Or maybe, “Why does everyone tell me I have an accent?” Well, the truth is that we ALL have accents. It just depends on where in the world you happen to be, and who the listener is.
What, exactly, is an accent?
An accent is the result of someone learning a second language, then applying the rules of pronunciation and stress patterns from the first (or native) language to the second. It probably sounds a little confusing, so let’s put it another way. The way that we speak is very individualized. No two people will pronounce their words and sounds exactly the same. The subtle variations can come from different voice pitches and intonation patterns. But it also comes from the habits that we have developed over our lives. These habits shape how we will sound when learning a second language. The accent that others hear when we are talking is what happens when we use our old speech habits from our first language and use them to speaking the new, second language. We haven’t learned to use the “new” habits associated with the second language. If you were born in India and come to the United States for work, most likely you will be told that you have an accent, no matter how fluent your American English is. The same would be true for an American visiting Paris and trying to speak French. The person you are talking to will hear the difference right away.
OK, What’s next?
Now that we know what an accent is, what can we do to make it easier to understand someone with an accent? One way to address this is to seek out Accent Reduction services. These services are designed to help someone learn new habits in order to improve pronunciation of the sounds in that second language. Although, in reality, a person isn’t actually reducing their accent. It’s still there, but they will be able to speak clearer by modifying the way they sound. This creates the perception that the accent has been reduced or lost.
Accent reduction services can be offered to both individuals and small groups, usually no larger than 5 to maximize benefit to all participants. The sessions can be packaged in 7-week or 13-week workshops as well as in 3-day intensive courses designed for busy professionals with limited time to attend sessions. These workshops can be conducted on site or at another location, such as your home or the trainer’s office.
In these workshops you will typically learn how to pronounce the consonants and vowels of the new language, along with learning new stress and intonation patterns. The goal of the workshops is to help you communicate clearer and be understood better, NOT to “lose” your accent. Remember that an accent isn’t a negative trait. It can show us a person who has taken the time and dedication to learn a new language later in life; a daunting yet admirable task. Seeking accent reduction services will only enhance the communication experience and allow an accent to become an asset.