Accent Modification

Improving speech intelligibility

Also known as Accent Reduction or Accent Softening I prefer the term 'Accent Modification' as it is not really possible to reduce or soften an accent - only to change it into another accent. How do you 'reduce' or 'soften' a speech sound - by iterating that speech sound more quietly? No we have to adjust it. All voices and accents are of equal value and to 'soften' or 'reduce' also implies that there is a prestige accent - a best way of speaking - which I think is a little problematic. Having said that we do want to aim for clear, intelligible speech with as little  cause for confusion as possible.

 

Before our first session I will ask you a little about your language background, where you have spent considerable time and I will ask you to record a couple of passages of text for me - from this I will then create a breakdown of your accent.

 

We will talk about the phonology of your native language vs the English language and see how they differ. Many European languages don't include the 'th' sounds that we get in words like 'this' and 'thistle'. Therefore, lacking this sound, speakers of different languages will probably use the sound that feels closest to it that exists within their native language phonology when speaking English and so a speaker may substitute the 'th' sound for a 'd' and say 'this, though' and we hear 'Diss, Dough' This may cause some confusion and so these are sounds it is worth prioritizing so that we can eliminate any homophones - sounds with different spellings that are pronounced the same - 

 

If a speaker doesn't have 'th' sounds in the phonology of their native language and they instead substitute this 'th' sound for a 'd' sound then the below words would become homophones of one another which would cause confusion.

Than, Dan

These, D's

This, Diss

There, Dare

Then, Den

Though, Dough

They, Day

They've, Dave

Those, Doze

Heather, Header,

Other, Udder

Worthy, Wordy

The same thing can happen with vowels. Some European languages don't have the /I/ sound which is the sound we have in words like Kit, Bit, Hid etc. and so when they come to speak English and come across a word that belongs to that lexical set then they will probably use the closest sound that they have to that from their phonology - quite often this is the /i/ sound which sounds like 'ee' so this means we can run into similar clarity issues in the below words

Ship, Sheep

Hid, Heed

Bin, Bean

Pill, Peel

Sin, Seen

Will, Wheel,

Hill, Heel,

Ill, Eel

Phill, Feel

Live, Leave

Grid, Greed

Grin, Green

Bit, Beat

- (in fact, for the actors out there, the Bit, Beat confusion is exactly why there is some confusion over acting practitioner Staislavski's terms for beats)


We’ll work through key sounds and I’ll help you to hear and create the difference between the vowel and consonants you habitually make and those of the accent we are ‘softening’ towards. I’ll teach you how to make any new sounds and give you exercises for incorporating them into your everyday speech. Once we are happy with that depending on your priorities for the work we will either work to integrate all of these changes or if you would actually prefer to fully change your accent to for example Standard Southern British English or General American we will continue our work and even more narrowly look at the exact targets of vowels and consonants from the sample that we are working towards and try to get you as close to them as possible - this work would not be as much about intelligibility but would be going into the realms of accent acquisition. This work will necessitate a deep look into the vocal tract posture of our target accent as well as your idiosyncratic vocal tract posture.

 

 

I usually work through skype or zoom and find these platforms very convenient for screen sharing and sending resources, I also have programs for recording and slowing down speech as well as programs for observing intonation and stress patterns - this allows us to listen and observe together in a lot of detail. 

My rate is £70 per hour and I offer a discounted rate of £95 for an hour and a half. I find that especially for the first few sessions this extra time is very valuable as there is usually a huge amount of content to get through in the first few sessions before we able to start integrating the work into your everyday speech and drilling vowel contrasts etc.

This isn't necessarily easy work and it doesn't all fall into place overnight, but with determination and diligent practice I can help you eliminate any clarity issues from your speech.

Accent Modification Testimonials

Chris has a great understanding of phonetics. He also has loads of experience in working with students of various backgrounds. I've only had several classes with him but I can already see I've significantly improved my understanding of vowels and consonants and am also more conscious of various sounds of the English language. I wholeheartedly recommend Chris as an excellent accent tutor.

Irmina