Accent Reduction, Intensive American English Accent and Pronunciation

The Intensive American English Accent Reduction and Pronunciation Course is designed for speakers of English as a Second Language who have pronunciation challenges that lead to miscommunication, confusion, or inefficient communication with customers and coworkers.

Unlike traditional accent reduction or accent modification courses, this accent reduction training program provides participants with a simple 3-step process to help them quickly reduce misunderstandings and improve the smoothness of their speech. The accent reduction class will use The Accent Diet: A Daily Program for Improving Your American English Pronunciation, a textbook written by the Ovient founders specifically for business professionals, and will include access to Online accent reduction and pronunciation lessons to enhance practice outside of class.

This accent reduction program can be offered as a 12-hour course or as a one-day seminar. Details for both options are below.

Intensive American English Accent and Pronunciation 12-hour Course
Objective: Participants will be able to apply American English pronunciation patterns to their speech and effectively utilize techniques for improving speech clarity.
Audience: Speakers of English as a second language
Class size: Up to 10 people
Length: 12 hours (2 hours x 6 weeks)
Cost: Contact us for pricing or call 408-524-1649
Topics addressed in this course:
• Speech rhythm and pausing
• Sound connections and linking
• Intonation and word stress
• Syllable stress
• Discrete sounds
• Reducing speech noise
Request Proposal for Training

Intensive American English Accent and Pronunciation 1-day Seminar
Objective: Participants will be able to apply American English pronunciation patterns to their speech and effectively utilize techniques for improving speech clarity.
Audience: Speakers of English as a Second Language
Class size: Up to 20 people
Length: 6 hours
Cost: Contact us for pricing or call 408-524-1649
Topics addressed in this seminar:
• Speech rhythm and pausing
• Intonation and word stress
• Syllable stress
• Discrete sounds
Request Proposal for Training

To learn more about accents and to understand accent reduction, read the accent reduction basics below.

Questions about Accent Reduction

What can a nonnative English speaker do about his accent?
If a nonnative English speaker mispronounces only a few sounds, he may not need to modify his accent because his speech is most likely not causing problems in communication. However if he does not use the rhythm and stress patterns of standard English, his speech may need to be modified.

There are many labels for this kind of training: accent reduction, accent modification, accent neutralization, accent improvement, accent enhancement, or pronunciation improvement. All of these terms carry contextual baggage. Because accents are inherently local, people who have different accents are seen as outsiders and may not be treated equally. Many instructors, who often have learned second languages themselves and feel compassion for learners, use positive words like enhancement or improvement rather than the negative words like reduction and elimination. They may also use the word pronunciation rather than accent because of the stigma attached to the latter word. People may also use the words diction or enunciation when referring to clear speech. Regardless of the words used, everyone is talking about the same goal: speaking clearly in order to be understood.

What is an accent?
An accent is a particular feature of speech that is associated with a country, region, or even socio-economic class. For example, in some regions of the United States the two words “cot” and “caught” are pronounced differently, and in other regions they are pronounced exactly the same way. Technically, all speakers have an accent, but individuals tend to feel their pronunciation is neutral. Often when a region wants to separate themselves from other areas, the locals will call their accent a “dialect” or even a different “language.”

It is not too difficult for Americans to distinguish accent differences between a speaker from Boston and a speaker from Texas, but these two speakers can still understand each other. Regional American accents are not different enough to be unintelligible. Yet, there are often social pressures for speakers with a strong southern or New England accent to conform to so-called “Network English,” which many television news reporters use.

Why do non-native English speakers have accents?
If people learn English as a second language as an adult, they will most likely speak with an accent. The reason for this is not due to a lack of effort but rather due to the patterns of their first language. Their brain and mouth are used to creating sounds in their first language and may not be able to produce (or even hear) the unique sounds in a second language. For example, a native Japanese speaker will often pronounce an “r” like an “l” because the Japanese language does not have the American “r” sound. Japanese does have an “r” sound, but it is closer to the American “l” or “d” sound. Another example is how Chinese speakers use rhythm. Speakers of Mandarin read each Chinese characters with equal stress, and this is why Chinese speakers may sound a bit strict or choppy when speaking English.

What happens to communication when someone has a strong accent?
Some accents are strong enough to be noticed but remain intelligible. However, when someone speaks English with the rhythms and patterns of another language, the English becomes unintelligible. At this point, the listener has a few options: ask clarification questions until the message is clear or say nothing and just pretend to understand. Many people feel it is rude to ask for clarification more than once or twice, and so when faced with an unclear speaker, they will simply nod their heads and pretend to understand. Nonnative speakers then have a false sense of their ability because they do not realize that they are not being understood.

Why do people try to modify or “reduce” their accent?
The most common reason people want to modify their accent is to be understood more clearly. If a non-native English speaker must communicate with native speaking coworkers and customers, then it is essential that the accent does not cause misunderstandings. People also modify accents to fit into a social group or family.

Some people, however, want to keep their native accent because it represents their home country, personal history, or personality. In fact, many Americans like the sound of an accent—as long as the speaker’s message is clear. However, in the workplace, an accent can be a barrier to career development because communication is a key skill in upper management.

Can accents be changed as adults?
While there is evidence that a person who learns English as an adult will never be able to sound like a native speaker (Critical Period Hypothesis), there is no reason why a non-native speaker cannot improve his or her pronunciation, making it more clear and intelligible. With persistence and practice, anyone can change an accent.

American English Pronunciation and Accent Basics

Pronouncing American English involves understanding how to create individual sounds, where to lengthen your sounds, where to pause, what sounds to connect and delete, and where to add stress and intonation in words, phrases, and sentences.

Making Sounds
We make sounds by using various combinations of our tongue, lips, teeth, nose, breath and vocal cords. For example, in order to make an “l” sound, a speaker must touch the tip of his tongue to the spot just behind his top front teeth, where the gums and teeth meet. Then, the speaker must hold his tongue there while breathing out and vibrating his vocal cords. A slight change in the position of the tongue or the breath can create a sound that is different enough for a native speaker to misunderstand.

Pausing is a key part of the rhythm of English. Think of English as having a heartbeat or pulse. Pausing helps keep this pulse slow and steady. Speech that has a slow and steady pulse is clear and sounds confident. We use pauses to process new information that the speaker is giving us. If someone speaks without pausing, it is difficult to listen to and think carefully about what is being said.

Stretching the vowels and the endings of words will increase the clarity of a speaker’s words. Many English words are distinguished by the vowels or endings, and so if these are not given enough “time,” listeners may misunderstand the words.

Native English speakers do not read every word in isolation. Instead, they connect words together by blending the sound at the end of one word with the sound of the beginning of the next word. If a speaker reads each word individually without blending the ends and beginnings, his speech will sound “choppy.”

When speaking quickly, native English speakers often delete sounds or change them to roll more smoothly off their tongues. While this is not an essential part of learning to speak with an American accent, it can help advanced speakers learn to speak quickly without compromising clarity.

Word Stress
Word stress is a term that describes the extra stress or power that gets placed on a single word in a sentence. (This is sometimes called “sentence stress.”) Stressed words are a little longer (stretched), and a little higher-pitched and a little louder than the other words in a sentence. The words that get this extra stress are called “content” words. These are the words that contain the essential meaning of the sentence. These might be verbs, nouns, and adjectives. The non-stressed words are typically the “function” words. These are the words that help with the grammar of the sentence, such as “the” and “a” or helping verbs.

Intonation is the rising and falling of the pitch of your voice. It is part of the rhythm of English. It helps to think of intonation like the notes on a musical scale. Just as notes can go up and down, you can use intonation to make your voice go up and down. You can also think of intonation as steps going up or down or as a wave that moves up and down like the ocean. Just remember that when you speak English, your voice should not be flat.

A syllable is made up of one vowel sound. A syllable can also contain consonants, but it does not have to. For example, service has two syllables (ser-vice) because it has two vowel sounds (e, i). The final e is silent. Some people like to think of a syllable as a beat of music. You can feel the “beat” by clapping your hands to the syllables. If you say the word service, you would clap once on ser and once on vice.

Syllable Stress
Syllable stress is the emphasis we place on one syllable in a word. We create stress by making the syllable a little louder, longer, and higher-pitched. One way to feel the stress on a syllable is to take a rubber band and pull it apart when stressing the sound. If the correct syllables are not stressed, listeners may not understand the word, even if all of the individual sounds are correct.

What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a standard set of symbols that represent sounds. For example, the sound that the letters “SH” make is written as /ʃ/ in the IPA. Although the same letter can be pronounced with different sounds in English (“c” can sound like /s/ or /k/), IPA symbols never change sounds. This means that you can use IPA to easily learn how to pronounce any new word. Most dictionaries made for second-language learners use IPA because it is an international standard; however, many dictionaries published in the United States use standard letters to show pronunciation because many Americans do not learn the IPA symbols in school.

Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds
Voiced sounds are made with the vibration of the vocal cords, and unvoiced sounds are not. For example, the s and t sounds are unvoiced, and the z and d sounds are voiced. All vowels are voiced sounds.