Why do I have an Accent Anyway?
As a child, you acquired your native language without difficulty or even thinking about it. We are born with the ability to produce and perceive the sounds of all languages, but we quickly learn what sounds are important to our native language and disregard all other sounds.
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.
Foreign accents are a result of your speech patterns from your native language. The sounds of the new language you are learning are difficult if they do not exist in your native language. For example, if it is hard to pronounce a specific sound of the new language you are learning, you might substitute it with a similar sound from your native language. It can be difficult to overcome the tendency to keep using the sounds that are more familiar to you. Your ingrained speech patterns from your native language are resistant to change and can interfere with your efforts to master a new language.
What are the benefits of accent reduction services?
Those interested in accent reduction are motivated by different reasons. Some people find that their accent is a distraction from what they are saying and that others may not be able to focus on what is most important. Others are just not as confident speaking English with an accent and are discouraged when they are often asked to repeat or clarify what they have said. It is important to understand the reasons why someone is interested in modifying their accent as therapy can focus on these specific aspects of their life. For instance, some individuals may be interested in reducing their accent primarily in the workplace, and therefore therapy may heavily focus on specific vocabulary used at work and practice presenting work-related content.
How will my accent be assessed?
In the assessment, you will be asked to speak in different contexts in order for the therapist to get a representative sample of your speech. These contexts include the word level, sentence level, paragraph level, imitation of a model, and spontaneous speech. From this assessment, your therapist will complete a thorough analysis and will review the results with you. You will know which sounds of ‘Canadian English’ you pronounce differently and which sounds you use instead. Your therapist will recommend the sounds that you can work on in your sessions and the order in which they should be targeted.
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. 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