Everyone has an accent. They’re a natural part of spoken language and are as unique as our fingerprints and voice. People sound "different" to us for a variety of reasons. Some come from another part of the country and carry over 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, their accent can complicate the clarity of their speech. They may have trouble being understood by others. Their accent may disrupt the natural flow of conversation and reduce their ability to communicate. Often, people with accents feel their listeners are more focused on the accent themselves versus the message they’re trying to convey. This can be a frustrating experience and affect a person's personal and professional life. While accents are not a communication disorder, they are a communication difference. If you’re thinking about changing your accent, this guide can help you make the most informed treatment decision. Read on for an overview of accents, answers to common questions about accent modification, and an explanation of 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 and 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 reduce 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 different than someone who was born in Italy and learned English later in life.
Regional accents: There are parts of the United States commonly associated with having stronger accents. Think New York, Texas, Mississippi, and Boston. 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 change their accent?
There are many reasons why people decide to reduce or modify their accent. These can include:
Difficulty being understood by others
Frequently having to repeat yourself
Listeners having a negative attitude toward your accent
Attention being focused on 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 life. 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 (for examples, actors performing in a new 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 the sounds, phrases, and speech patterns that are part of your accent.
Many people who choose to reduce or modify their accent seek speech therapy services. Speech-language pathologists, 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 does a speech therapist evaluate 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 out loud 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 at which you learned new languages
Where these languages were learned (school, home, community)
How long you've spoken each language
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 what you're learning, 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 repeating 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 charts, 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
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 receive the same quality of care, online speech therapy is often much more affordable that in-person therapy.
In addition, many people who choose to modify their accent do so for professional or educational reasons. They have busy working or academic lives, not to mention family responsibilities, which can make commuting to a speech therapist in the middle of the week 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're not beholden to the limited business hours of many traditional speech therapy clinics. You can schedule sessions around your busy life--mornings, evenings, or weekends.