Why do I have an Accent Anyway?
Accents are a result of your speech patterns from your native language. As a child, you acquired your native language without difficulty or even thinking about it. Our ability to learn new languages is at a peak during childhood. Once we enter young adulthood, learning a new language becomes more difficult and requires conscious and frequent practice. Learning the vocabulary and grammar of a language is separate than learning the sounds, rhythms and intonations. This is evidenced by the fact that someone who has spoken a second language for an extended period of time may improve their use of vocabulary and grammar, but their pronunciation of that second language remains fairly unchanged. This is because your ingrained speech patterns from your native language are resistant to change and require specialized training and practice.
How does accent reduction work?
Accent reduction is aimed at teaching you which areas of your speech are important to change and how you can make these changes. Generally, the first step is to teach you to discriminate the specific sounds of English that are difficult for you to pronounce. Your ear is not automatically trained to do this. Secondly, you will learn how to make these difficult sounds and be taught what to do differently with your articulators (i.e. your tongue, lips, or jaw). This stage involves a lot of practice at the sound, word, and sentence levels. You may also learn to use the appropriate rhythm or intonation of English as you practice these new sounds. The last step, and probably the most challenging, is transferring your newly acquired sounds into everyday conversation. You will practice using these new sounds in as close to natural speaking situations as possible.
Who can help me?
Accent reduction services are not only offered by Speech-Language Pathologists (S-LP), but there are significant advantages to working with an S-LP. Speech-Language Pathologists have received specific training and clinical experience in the areas of articulation and speech therapy (i.e. how we make and modify speech sounds). S-LPs are also regulated health professionals by CASLPO (College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario). It is best to look for an S-LP who has completed additional certification in an accent reduction program such as the Compton P-ESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) Program.
By Stefanie Haws
Speech-Language Pathologist at Simone Friedman Speech-Language Services