Does Your Accent Make Communication Difficult? Speech Therapy Can HelpLeanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP
Everyone has an accent, and it’s part of what makes us unique.
People sound different because they come from varying regions of the country, or from another country all together. And while having an accent is not a speech or language disorder in itself, it can make it difficult to speak with other people or be understood.
The effects of having an accent can range from the mildly annoying to the downright frustrating. You may be forced to constantly repeat yourself. Your accent may be routinely brought up as a topic of conversation, or you may find people focusing more on your accent than on what you’re saying.
Worst of all, studies have shown that people who speak English as a second language are generally passed over for top managerial jobs and executive positions. And although discrimination and bias based on your accent is highly illegal, it happens often.
Speech therapy focused on accent modification has helped many people feel more confident and effective in both their careers and their personal lives.
Why do accents sound different?
Every language has its own melody, rhythm, and stress points. Non-native English speakers often use the patterns of their own native language, which are generally different than English. This can make the same word in both languages sound drastically different, hence, accented.
Having an accent affects our ability to pronounce consonants and vowels in English or any other second language. Accents only become a problem if they interfere with your ability to communicate, or affect your academic or professional success.
Is it possible to change your accent?
With hard work, practice, and professional guidance, you can learn how to change the way you pronounce words. Changing your accent is known as accent modification, and it’s routinely taught to non-native English speakers or those learning another language. It doesn't matter if you're a new English speaker or have been speaking the language for years: wherever you are in your speech journey is the right place to start.
People who choose accent modification include:
Those who speak English as a second language
People who want to change their regional accent
Professionals who want to improve their communication at work
Actors who need to learn or perfect a new accent for a role
How speech therapy can help you with your accent
You may have attempted to change your accent in the past. The problem is that without professional help from a skilled clinician, it can be difficult to isolate the words or phrases that are causing the most trouble.
Many people looking to modify their accent seek the help of a speech-language pathologist. These professionals will work with you to understand your speech needs, identify communication problems, and learn about your goals or what you’d like to change.
Some common things a speech therapist will typically look for during your sessions include:
How you pronounce certain words and phrases
The rhythm of your speech and the stress you put on certain sounds
How you speak in conversation
The speech therapist will then use this information to create an individualized treatment plan best suited to your needs and goals.
What to expect in speech therapy for accent modification
Depending on your communication goals and care plan, there are a variety of techniques your speech therapist may use to help you modify your accent. Some of these strategies include:
Listening and imitating: Your speech therapist may have you practice repetition of certain sounds or words.
Auditory description: This strategy focuses on your ability to recognize, differentiate, and isolate between separate sounds.
Practicing vowels: Therapy may focus on adjusting how you pronounce and put stress on different vowels.
Visual aids: Pictures and mirrors can help with the proper pronunciation of sounds.
Tongue twisters: You may try repeating phrases that have similar and successive sounds.
Recording speech: Your speech therapist may record your speech patterns so you can clearly hear yourself speaking and provide feedback.
What does accent modification cost?
The best way to improve your accent and make progress toward your goals is to regularly visit with a speech therapist. Unfortunately, going to a traditional speech therapy practice can get very expensive, very quickly.
While some speech therapy services are covered by insurance, accent modification is not one of them. This means all costs must be paid out-of-pocket. Many people delay or forgo accent modification simply because of the price, which can then have downstream effects on their academic or professional life.
One alternative is to receive accent modification services from a speech therapist online via video conferencing. Working with a speech therapist online provides the same great level of service but at a considerably reduced price versus traditional in-practice settings.
Benefits of online speech therapy
Flexible scheduling and convenience. Instead of spending time traveling to and from in-person therapy sessions, you can attend appointments from the comfort of your own home. You also have greater flexibility to schedule sessions on the dates that work best and at the times you prefer, often including evenings and weekends.
Just as effective as traditional therapy. When you work with a licensed speech-language pathologist, there’s no difference in quality between teletherapy and on-site therapy sessions. A landmark study from Kent State University showed that there was no significant difference in scores between students who participated in teletherapy versus on-site therapy.
More affordable. Brick-and-mortar speech therapy practices have to pay for a lot of expenses that aren’t directly related to patient care, such as facility costs and support staff. With teletherapy, these cost savings are passed down to the customers.
While accents are not a communication disorder, they are a communication difference. If you’re thinking about changing your accent, educating yourself about what's possible is the first step. Consider contacting a speech-language pathologist to talk about how speech therapy can help you achieve your communication goals.