fbpx

Does Accent Reduction Work?

What if I told you that 80% international professionals living in an English-speaking environment having advanced knowledge of English are missing out on enhancing their spoken fluency and expressiveness?

They speak English every day, try hard to use sophisticated vocabulary and idioms, but never quite achieve the ease of communication they really want.

In the meanwhile, there’s a shortcut to a quick increase in fluency and comprehensibility. And it’s not about memorizing new idioms or chattering away all day long in an effort to enhance fluency. It’s about fine motor skills and muscle memory.

Communication Before Accent Reduction

I learned about this secret the hard way. Several years ago, I came to North America as a skilled immigrant and was craving to integrate. I was bold, alert, and keen to dive deep into the new culture. Brave new horizons lay wide in front of me. I considered myself to be well-prepared. I had a shiny IELTS 8, and a clear understanding of where I was headed professionally and otherwise.

Contrary to my expectations, my integration into the Anglophone society never went as smoothly as I’d wished it would. The unfamiliar environment and people’s attitudes stacked one misunderstanding upon another, and the onset of the culture shock was rapid and dazzling. I felt so out of touch with reality.

To add to my overall confusion and anxiety, in corporate North America, employees are expected to attend tons of corporate events of all sorts. Every single one of them was a pain, because I was unable to catch what people were saying. Voices blended into a wall of incomprehensible white noise. Yet I was expected to give smart answers, because my colleagues and bosses had no idea about any of the difficulties I was experiencing. More importantly, I was unaware of them myself.

Bars were another major problem. Again, they were too noisy for me to take part in any conversation, and on the rare occasions I did go there, I left them with a skull-crushing headache. I’m not even mentioning some of the awkward conversations I had with native speakers who happened to have a speech impediment. My best bet at the time would’ve been to nod politely for as long as possible, and then run.

People reciprocated. They would frown for the first couple of seconds they registered me speaking, and I dreaded that frown. They would also routinely compliment me on my English (not a good sign!) and ask me where I was from. That’s how I started to hate that question.

How Fixed My Accent

About a year and a half in the new country, I realized the situation wasn’t really looking up. I was going through the repetitive home-work-home motions that didn’t allow much room for learning and personal development. I needed more input about the environment I found myself in. I realized that I needed a more gradual integration to prevent myself from getting psychologically traumatized.
The integration I was thinking of wasn’t about adopting those little external features and habits that often come up like buying overpriced coffee at Starbucks, drinking from oversized mugs or maintaining a resting smile no matter the circumstances. It was about gaining a deeper understanding of how residents function here; what attitudes, preconceptions and knee-jerk reactions they have.

So, I decided to take a step back, find a more liberal job that I enjoyed and do some observation and inner work. This is how I ended up getting certified as an ESL Teacher and working at a brick and mortar Canadian language school and an online Chinese EFL school.
Somewhere down the line, I realized I wanted to get rid of my accent for professional purposes. I wanted to be a better pronunciation model for my students. I worked with an accent coach for about six months. I read all the literature on the phonology of English, and some other popular languages I could find (Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Creole, Sanskrit, and some African Languages). I attended workshops and lectures (thanks to COVID they all became available online). I got my Pronunciation and Prosody teaching certificates. This is how I became a trained phonetician.

My newly acquired phonological awareness opened up an entire chasm of opportunity in front of me. It made me understand that regardless of my vast experience in English learning, throughout all those years, disproportionately little attention was devoted to the pronunciation and rhythm of the language.

I’m in my mid-thirties now, which means that over the span of roughly thirty years of my experience with all kinds of textbooks, language courses, private tutors, native speaking volunteers, foreign travels, standardized tests, and a sophisticated skilled immigration process, no one ever bothered to teach me the phonetics of English properly!

I was missing out on a HUGE portion of information every moment of communication just because I was mishearing and misinterpreting English sentence stress. This is my first-language-dependent. Because I was never specifically taught the rules of stress in English, I kept erroneously applying the rules of stress used in my first language. This, again, was automatic and unavoidable. One can’t talk with NO intonation at all.

We MUST use SOME intonation to talk. It’s like one of the laws of nature! We will unfailingly apply our native intonation if we don’t know any better.

Communication After Accent Reduction

I became better at repairing communication breakdown when it did occur (alas, it is sometimes inevitable even between two native speakers with perfect diction).

The more I was exposed to daily interactions, the more I enjoyed it. Because now I had more bandwidth to process stuff. Before, that bandwidth was taken by deciphering the sounds I wasn’t confident about. I started noticing sarcasm and making pretty accurate guesses about people’s intentions and feelings, while before I was only capable of focusing on the factual side of any message. I didn’t have any more attention or mental energy left. Communicating like that was exhausting.

Do I need to say that my listeners started to perceive me differently too? First of all, no more perplexed frowning. Second of all, they started to take me noticeably more seriously and value my opinions more, because they could see that I could grasp what they were saying word-for-word. And when a misunderstanding did happen, I fixed it with very precise questions. No more unrecognized sarcasm attempts. I felt on steady ground when communicating again, just like in my first language. My expressiveness went up as well. I started making appropriate jokes myself and expressing emotions better.

Starting Out With Your Accent Reduction

What has changed? My writing, speaking, listening or reading skills? They were up to standard when I crossed the Canadian border, remember? The only thing that changed was my phonological awareness. The awareness of sounds, intonations and rhythm of English.

Imagine a world where you can have more conversations and where YOU are the one who is in charge. Complain to the manager about that horrible service you’ve just experienced and ask for a discount! Deliver that perfect elevator pitch! Have more conversations where you can show how smart and well-mannered you are and enjoy yourself.
As I’ve been doing one-to-one accent coaching with clients from all over the world for a while now, I’m officially telling you that I’ve acquired a superpower to break down any accent into its contributors. They are different for different first language backgrounds and phonetical awareness levels. I can help you break yours apart, so you can finally target the individual features that contribute to your sounding non-standard and misunderstanding others.

Schedule your accent breakdown appointment with me and make your first step to becoming yourself again in the new context.
Imagine a world where you can create better first impressions at job interviews and every day at work. Imagine a world where you can stand your ground and react adequately in stressful situations.

Imagine a world where you can fully think about what you say as opposed to how you say it. Eliminate unpleasant surprises when it comes to your listener’s reaction every time you say anything. Anything at all! Your accent breakdown appointment is the first step on your way to that world.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *