10 Best Practices for Teaching Accent Reduction

Top Tips to Make You More Effective at Teaching Accent Reductionaccent_reduction

If you teach accent reduction courses either in the classroom or one-on-one, you’ll benefit from reading these terrific tips we’ve gathered from some very experienced accent reduction experts.

 #1: Practice for Success

Tell your students that an accent is a speech pattern. We all have an accent! Despite its name, accent reduction is fundamentally about acquiring a new speech pattern. This involves changing the muscle memory of the mouth so that the new speech pattern becomes “second nature.” The process is similar to learning to play an instrument, and it’s most successful when students make a daily commitment to practice. Make a practice plan with your students and include an accountability measure so they can own their progress. Suggest that when speaking aloud, students focus on one sound per day. Set aside 5 minutes in the morning, in the afternoon, and again in the evening to specifically concentrate on words having that particular sound. This is “mindful practice.” The goal is to build an awareness of both the sound and how to produce it, consistently, in context. Reading aloud is another great way to build proficiency.

This tip and several tips that follow are from Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann of the Accent Reduction Institute. They are co-authors of the book, CD-ROM, and audio CD set “Master the American Accent,” published by Language Success Press. Judy Ravin is also the author of the bestselling accent reduction guide, “Lose Your Accent in 28 Days.” Both of these accent reduction guides are used by accent reduction teachers and trainers around the world.

#2: Set the Stage

Prior to program launch, ask your student to listen for sounds in English that don’t occur in their first language. This begins the process of “tuning their ear” to what’s missing in their own repertoire of sounds. Have them make a list and bring it to the first class.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #3: Have Your Students do “Reverse Imitation”

Have students do “reverse imitation” by having them think how an English speaker sounds when attempting to speak in their native language. Those funny sounds are clues to how they need to change their way of speaking in English. (For example, in Spanish, English speakers usually “slide around” too much with the vowels, so therefore a Spanish speaker needs to be much more active with their tongue for English vowels). This also can apply to facial movement , comparing the faces of newscasters (with the volume muted) in both languages.
—Laura Elias, The Pronunciation Coach  

 #4: Assessments: Keep an Open Mind (Ear)

Just as in English, there are many regional dialects in most languages. Don’t assume all speakers from a particular language background have the same need. One size does not fit all. For example, some native Chinese speakers have difficulty distinguishing ‘r’ from ‘l’, while others substitute an ‘n’ for an ‘l’. Remember to keep in mind your student’s objectives. Is it important for them to become familiar with contractions and informal speech patterns? Design a learning plan that’s customized and relevant. At the end of the program, provide a continued growth plan.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #5: Phoneme Discrimination is more than Auditory

Adults learn differently than children and adolescents; it’s much more of a visual and kinesthetic process. Therefore, it’s essential to create an awareness of what each sound looks like. Are the lips in the shape of a box for /ɑ/ or an oval for /ɔ/? Is the tip of the tongue visible between the teeth for /ɵ/ and /ð/? Practice in front of a mirror to verify lip, tongue, and teeth placement.  Also pay attention to what the sound feels like. Can the top teeth be felt on the lower lip for /v/?  Providing many techniques for phoneme discrimination is critical for adult learners and gives them an increased ability to self-correct.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #6: Think about Sound, not Spelling

We all learn that we have five (or six, if we include ‘y’) vowels. This is true … for grammar. Yet pronunciation is altogether different. English is particularly challenging because the same letter can be pronounced in several ways. In fact, we use these same five (or six) letters to produce 21 standard vowel sounds. For example, the letter ‘o’ has ten different pronunciations in English: “conduct”, “coffee”, “cook”, “cool”, “no”, “none”, “woman”, “women”, “coy”, “coil”, and “clown”. Learn to associate specific articulation techniques with the sound …not the spelling!
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #7: Have Students Use a Mirror

Using mirror is simple and low tech. The instructor should ask the student to closely watch her mouth as she exaggerates the pronunciation of a “difficult” sound and then use the mirror to make their mouths “do the same thing.” Works every time on “th.” Once they have successfully made the sound, they know they can and can use visual practice with the mirror to build a new habit (and confidence!).
— Sharlene Vichness, Language Directions, LLC

 #8: Have Students Slow Down Their Rate of Speech

Have students slow down their rate of speech, model the speech for them, and explain the articulation.
— Judi Srebro, Speech and Communications Coach

 #9: Teach Students Casual English

Casual speech patterns help students understand native speakers. And when they begin using it themselves they do sound more like a naive speaker instead of as if they are reading aloud from a book. In casual speech, “got to” becomes “gotta.” “What are you doing? ” becomes “Whaddaya doing?” “Let me help” becomes “Lemme help.” Students really enjoy learning casual English and find it very useful.
— Anne Maki, Clear Speech Specialists

 #10: Praise, Praise, Praise

Guided feedback is far more than providing instruction! Begin with praise that’s specific and meaningful. Affirmation goes a long way in building confidence and easing apprehension. Most students are aware of their pronunciation weaknesses; few are tuned in to their strengths.  There’s a direct relationship between increased confidence and a willingness to engage in conversation. Helping students excel means creating an environment where they’re recognized for their progress on a consistent basis.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann


New Research Supports Benefits of Reducing One’s Foreign Accent

Here’s our latest press release, which you can also read here.

Language Success Press, a leading provider of accent reduction and business English materials, says new research from the University of Chicago underscores the benefits of reducing one’s foreign accent.

Ann Arbor, MI (PRWEB) November 27, 2012

Language Success Press, a publisher of accent reduction and business English materials, has said for the past decade that reducing one’s foreign accent and speaking more fluent English helps build career success. Now a study from the University of Chicago lays out a key support for this case: speaking with a foreign accent actually makes the speaker seem less truthful. The research summary states that, “Such reduction of credibility may have an insidious impact on millions of people, who routinely communicate in a language which is not their native tongue.”

The research shows that non-native speech is more difficult for the listener’s brain to process. This difficulty causes the listener to doubt the accuracy of what they’re hearing. For example, people who hear a statement such as “Ants don’t sleep” as less true when spoken by someone with a foreign accent.

Language Success Press offers four accent reductionsystems, including Master the American Accent, Lose Your Accent in 28 Days, as well as a specialized system for native Spanish speakers. “Many of our customers have told us that they feel held back in their careers because of their accent,” says Tanya Peterson, Marketing Director at Language Success Press. “The subtle bias they are experiencing is borne out in this research.”

Ms. Peterson says Language Success Press’ customers include business people, health care professionals, college professors and graduate students. Many are fluent in English but still retain some trace of a foreign accent. Pronunciation is generally considered the most difficult part of a language to master.

Ms. Peterson says that dozens of customers have written to Language Sucess Press after using one of the company’s accent reduction systems to say that they feel more confident, more effective, and less self-conscious.

Non-native speakers have trouble conceptualizing the sounds of English. They have trouble hearing the difference between various sounds, organizing them in their brains, and using them as needed. For example, many Asian speakers confuse the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds. The problem is not that Asian speakers are not able to produce an ‘r’ or an ‘l’ sound. They can produce both. The problem is in the conceptualization. They have difficulty keeping the sounds distinct from another and determining when to use each. So the first step is in learning the sound differences between the way one is currently pronouncing sounds, words, and sentences, and the correct way. Accent reduction systems help, in part, by helping learners differentiate sounds and teaching the techniques necessary to produce the sounds differently.

Lose Your Accent in 28 Days and Master the American Accent both use video clips to show how to make American English vowel and consonant sounds. The systems also include sections on the other key aspects of pronunciation: rhythm, stress, and intonation.

The research article cited in this release is entitled,” Why don’t we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility” by S. Lev-Ari and B. Keyser. It appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

About Language Success Press
Language Success Press is a leading publisher of business English and accent reduction books, CDs, and mobile apps. In addition, the company also publishes books and CDs for learning American English idioms and expressions, including the bestselling Speak English Like an American series. The company also has a line of apps for learning English. Founded in 2002, Language Success Press has customers in 40 countries around the world. For more information, please visit the company’s website at: http://www.languagesuccesspress.com or contact Tanya Peterson at Language Success Press: Tanya(at)languagesuccesspress(dot)com


A Great Reason to Reduce Your Foreign Accent

If you have an accent when you speak English, it probably adds to your charm. It also gives people an immediate conversation starter when they hear you speak (“What country are you from?”). Or they may enjoy guessing where you’re from. However, there is a “downside” to having a foreign accent when you speak. What’s a downside? It’s a negative aspect of something.

Research from the University of Chicago shows that foreign accents make speakers seem less truthful to listeners. What’s behind this? The listener’s brain. Non-native speech is more difficult for the listener’s brain to parse (analyze). This difficulty causes the listener to doubt the accuracy of what they’re hearing.

Researchers tested this with a simple experiment. People in the study were asked to judge the truthfulness of statements said by native and non-native English speakers. An example of the type of question asked was: A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can. The people in the study doubted the statements more when they were spoken with a foreign accent. Native speakers got a score of 7.5, people with some accent a score of 6.95, and those with heavy accents got a score of 6.84.

So reducing your foreign accent may not only make you more clear when you speak, it will also make you more credible. This gives me (a native speaker of English) motivation to work on my Russian accent!

You can read more about this in Scientific America by clicking here.