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Accent Modification

Everyone has an accent. They’re simply a natural part of the spoken language and are as unique as our fingerprints and voice.

People sound differently for a variety of reasons. Some come from different parts of the country and “carryover” features of their original language. Even native speakers from different parts of the country have varying accents. We should all be proud of our accents, as they often reflect our social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds.

However, for some individuals they can complicate the clarity of their speech. They may have trouble being understood by others, disrupt the natural flow of conversation, and reduce their ability to effectively communicate. Oftentimes, people with accents feel the listeners are more focused on the accent themselves versus the message they’re trying to convey. This can be a frustrating experience and affect an individual’s personal and professional lives.

While accents are not a communication disorder, they are a communication difference. If you’re thinking about accent modification, educating yourself can help you make the most informed treatment decisions. We’ve put together this information guide to provide an overview of accents, answer common questions about accent modification, and describe how speech therapy can help.

What is an Accent

Different languages have their own unique sound systems. They include how vowels and consonants are used and pronounced, the rhythm and intonation of oral communication, and which sounds occur at the beginning or end of words. When someone learns a new language, these features don’t always carry over. Understanding the key features of your accent, and helping to mitigate its unwanted effects, is the goal of accent reduction or modification.

While many factors can influence how you speak, accents are commonly grouped by:

  • Accents of National Origin: These types of accents are more common in non-native English speakers who learned English as a second language. For example, someone who only speaks English will often sound differently than someone who was born in Italy and learned English later in life.
  • Regional Accents: There are parts of the country commonly associated with having stronger accents. Think New York, Texas, Boston, and other areas. Some people who move from state-to-state choose to modify how they sound.

It’s worth reiterating that accents are not a speech or language disorder. They’re simply a difference in how one speaks.

Why Do People Choose to Modify Their Accent?

There are many reasons why people elect to reduce or modify their accents. These can include:

  • Difficulty being understood by others
  • Frequently having to repeat yourself
  • Listeners’ negative attitude towards your accent
  • Attention being focused towards your accent versus the message you’re trying to communicate

For all these reasons, and many more, communication challenges can have wide-ranging effects on an individual’s personal and professional lives. It may interfere with your social interactions, affect your confidence and self-esteem, impede everyday activities, and be a liability for educational and career advancement.

Speech therapy for accent modification is most commonly sought by people who:

  • Learned English as a second language
  • Want to change or reduce their regional accent
  • Have a desire to articulate more clearly and improve their intelligibility in school or work
  • Need to develop a new accent (e.g., actors performing in a new play or movie role)

How Can Speech Therapy Help Reduce or Modify Accents?

Without professional assistance from a native speaker, it can be difficult to self-identify and improve sounds, phrases, and speech patterns inherent to your accent.

Many individuals who choose to reduce or modify their accent seek speech therapy services. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), also referred to as speech therapists, are communication experts. They are qualified to evaluate your accent, and provide coaching and instruction to help improve your communication skills.

For example, they’ll help you better understand the mechanics of your speech and how to adjust your pronunciation. They may instruct you on tongue placement or muscle memory that could be affecting your speech sounds. And if you don’t have a chance to speak English often in your daily life, they’ll help you practice your conversational skills.

In most cases, it’s not realistic to expect that your accent will be completely eliminated, or that you’ll sound exactly like a native English speaker. However, speech therapy can help increase your intelligibility so you can be better understood by others. Improving your communication can also relieve the burden brought on by your accent so it’s less of a distraction during everyday interactions.

How Do Speech Therapists Evaluate Your Accent?

When beginning services to modify your accent, your speech therapist will start by comprehensively evaluating your accent and speech patterns. They’ll ask you to produce different sounds and read words and sentences outloud to develop a better understanding of:

  • How you produce different sounds
  • The rhythm and intonation of your speech
  • How you sound in conversation
  • How your accent impacts your daily life
  • Your overall intelligibility

They may also ask questions about your personal language history that could be relevant to your care. These can include:

  • The languages you speak
  • Age in which you learned new languages
  • Where these languages were learned (e.g., school, home, community)
  • Length each language has been spoken
  • Which languages are used at home, work, or socially

Based on this information, as well as your age, linguistic and cultural background, and learning style, your speech therapist will develop an accent modification care plan to help reach your communication goals. Your plan will include pronunciation training, at-home exercises to reinforce new lessons, and clear objectives to demonstrate progress.

What Does Accent Modification Look Like?

Depending on your evaluation and communication goals, there are many different techniques your speech therapist may use to modify your accent. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), some of these strategies include:

  • Listening and Imitating: Your speech therapist may have you practice repetition of certain sounds or words
  • Phonetic Training: This refers to an individual’s ability to recognize and produce certain sounds
  • Minimal Pair Drill: This is the ability to isolate and differentiate between similar sounds
  • Visual Aids: There are a number of visual aids, such as pictures, mirrors, or chats, that can help with the proper pronunciation of sounds
  • Tongue Twisters: Repeating phrases that have similar and successive sounds
  • Reading: Practicing reading words or text aloud
  • Recording Speech: Your speech therapist may record, or ask you to record, your speech patterns so you can clearly hear yourself speaking and provide feedback
  • Practicing Vowels: Improving how you pronounce and put stress on different vowels
  • Auditory Description: This strategy focuses on your ability to recognize, differentiate, and isolate between separate sounds

What are the Benefits of Expressable Online Speech Therapy for Accent Modification

Online speech therapy for accent modification is an effective alternative to more traditional, in-person settings. Instead of meeting with your speech therapist in person, you connect with them virtually through video chat. While you’ll continue to receive the same quality of care, online speech therapy is often much more affordable.

Additionally, many individuals who elect to modify their accent do so for professional or educational reasons. Many people have busy working or academic lives, not to mention family responsibilities, which can make commuting to your speech therapist in the middle of the week very inconvenient.

This is one of the greatest advantages of Expressable online speech therapy. Not only can you meet with a qualified speech therapist at the click of a button, and from the comfort of your home, but you can schedule sessions around your busy life - mornings, evenings, or weekends. No longer are you beholden to the limited business hours of many traditional speech therapy clinics.

Talk with a certified therapist today.

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