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