Accent training is about adjusting an accent. We all have accents, so terms such as “accent elimination” and “accent reduction” are based on the incorrect assumption that “we” don’t have accents. I prefer to use the terms “accent modification,” “accent adjustment,” “pronunciation training” or simply “clear speech training.”
What are the results of effective pronunciation training?
Why might HR and management consider offering clear speech training to an employee?
- Unclear speech can lead to miscommunication. When speech is clear, there are fewer misunderstandings, avoiding costly errors, increasing productivity and improving workplace safety.
- When speech is easily understood, conversational English comes more easily, leading to more fluid employee relations, more effective teamwork and improved levels of client satisfaction.
- Pronunciation training develops improved listening skills and greater self-confidence. It gives the employee the tools to compete more equitably in advancement in the workplace and allows the company to benefit from the employee’s true potential more fully.
If the client does the work and the trainer is skilled, you can expect clearer speech and better rhythm. The client will be asked to repeat less frequently, and workplace communication will flow better. The client will begin to hear aspects of speech they were unaware of previously and feel more confident when interacting in the workplace.
What do we need to keep in mind regarding accent modification training?
Changing how we speak, moving our mouths differently, developing awareness of unconscious muscle movements – these types of adjustments take attention, openness to change and willingness to experience self-consciousness in the short term.
Imagine you have done a particular dance all your life and I come to adjust your movements so you can dance “our” way. You will likely feel physically confused, dance much less skillfully for a while and get frustrated. Without commitment, focus and practice, you will likely give up and return to your original style of dance. So being self-motivated, dedicating regular time to practice and having patience are key to making changes.
Don’t be fooled by promotions that say, “Speak like a native!” Yes, clients can learn to speak in a more “native-like” manner, becoming easier to understand with clearer vowels and consonants, improved rhythm and intonation, and correct syllable stress. But they will always have their native accent. In most cases, their native language will be easy to identify. And this is completely fine and even desirable in my opinion. We should feel proud that we can speak more than one language. We just want to be easily understood and communicate effectively.
How long will it take to make such changes?
Learning the appropriate movements, reviewing exercises and understanding the approach – this information and basic ability development can be learned in a relatively short time. But becoming comfortable with these changes and developing new speech habits takes months of daily practice to achieve noticeable results. The amount of time it takes to do so varies for each person, where they are starting from and how engrained their habits are. And, to a very large degree, progress depends on attitude and practice habits.
I would say that, for most clients, a minimum of 15 sessions over 15 weeks can form a base. Depending on individual needs and resources, training can be extended over 6 to 12 months although not necessarily weekly. A longer time allows for ongoing reinforcement and focus on skill development. Not everyone has the motivation to continue practicing and focusing without a coach.
How much time does the employee need to dedicate to practice?
The client can expect to practice between 30 mins and one hour, 3 to 4 times a week. These blocks are for learning and practicing the sounds and rhythm of English while reviewing handouts, completing exercises and recording homework practice.
I also recommend developing a daily 5-minute practice habit to create new muscle memory that needs to be exercised and reinforced daily. This habit has two advantages. One – it creates daily time to review difficult sounds, aspects of stress and rhythm, particular vocabulary, etc. even when the client is very busy at work. And two – it makes ongoing practice simple, even after training has ended, leading to continual improvement.
Finally, I encourage clients to immerse themselves as much as possible in English – radio, TV, audio books, reading English newspapers, socializing in English, etc. Often employees taking accent modification training live their private lives almost entirely in their native language and culture. Language is culture and exposure so the more you get, the better it gets.
Why is it apparently so easy for actors to change their accent?
Firstly, it is their profession, and they dedicate hours to it regularly. Secondly, they use a script which they memorize; it is much easier to read or memorize a text and speak clearly than it is to apply what you have learned while thinking about what you are going to say. Anyone considering accent modification must not forget this last step which is getting the learning into daily speech. This takes practice and repetition combined with an approach which gradually moves from developing the physical skill to developing a habit.
How can the company help employees with unclear speech?
I would suggest referring to accent modification training as Professional Communications Training. In our sessions, there are always other aspects of communication that arise – specific cultural expectations, aspects of advanced grammar, connotations of specific vocabulary, presentation skills, etc. Despite having the specific goal of speaking more clearly, such training is always specific to the client and simply aims to professionalize communication skills, something most employees could benefit from at some point during their career.
If possible, allow for time during work hours to be dedicated to the training. Being exhausted after work hours and trying to focus on the location of your tongue and the pitch of your voice is not easy. And make sure that the client understands the need to practice and that they can and will find the time to do so.
Regarding progress, be aware that it is likely that the client will get worse before getting better. This is the adjustment period, a little like culture shock, causing some second guessing while speaking. This is normal and certainly doesn’t mean the training is not working but rather indicates a process of integration and adaptation.
Offering paid communications training is truly a gift to the employee who recognizes the benefits and is committed to refining their communication skills.
Do you have questions about accent modification training? Are you interested in learning more about our approach, the steps involved and pricing? Please contact Heather Chetwynd at email@example.com or complete our contact form.