All About Accents is dedicated to empower the English student, and build confidence in speaking situations for students where English is not your native language. This means going beyond the traditional role of the accent coach as the “expert,” and instead providing students with tools to be your own best and most confident communicators in American English. This article is about accent students making small changes when speaking, and being aware of your communication environment to be more understood by American English listeners.
During private and small group accent lessons, the instructor typically focuses on working on pronunciation of sounds and rhythm match the rules of American English speakers. This typically involves working on specific vowel and consonant sounds, and word/ sentence stress. However, being understood by speakers involves more than how close your sounds are to American English, or memorizing stress rules (and all the exceptions)! There are ways for the English accent student to be more understood by American English listeners, regardless of degree of accent.
Read through and practice these speaking tips for accent students, so you are more aware of your general speech and your surrounding environment.
1) Slow down!
Pause at all pronunciation, and exaggerate the pause at every period. Slowing down also helps decrease the use of fillers such as “uhm,” helping the student sound more confident.
2) “Speak clearly and purposefully,” in a way that feels “natural” and less “robotic”
This also means “slightly” exaggerating movements of the mouth (without over-exaggerating, as that may lead to the listener perceiving vowel distortion). For speaking “clearly,” a tool is to imagine your regular talking corresponding to a “100,” and try speaking twice the clearness, a clearness of “200.”
3) Be aware of your environment
For students who speak with an accent, listeners may have more difficulty understanding your speech in certain situations. Accented speech is more difficult to understand for listeners in noise, with hearing loss, who are older, unfamiliar with your specific accent, or unfamiliar with the specific speaker. Obviously, the student with an accent cannot change the age of the listener, but just be aware that older listeners may have a more difficult time understanding your accent.
Also think about your environment- a listener in a noisy, loud, dark bar / nightclub will probably have a more difficulty understanding the speaker with an accent than sitting in a bright, quiet cafe. The listener will have less cues in the dark being unable to see lip movement/ facial expressions, and background noise makes it harder to understand. Even if you the student can’t change these situations, speaking louder, slower (with pauses), and with more confidence may help you be more understood in the situation.
The previous suggestions are based on research by Dr. Alison Behrman, Ph.D CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist conducting new and relevant research in the field of accents. In her article “A Clear Speech Approach to Accent Management” (2017), Dr. Behrman discusses how “accentedness alone does not necessarily predict intelligibility and ease of understanding,” and researches a method for language learners called “clear speech.” If you are a person who enjoys scholarly social science research articles, you can access the full article cited at the end of this text through the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHAwire) for a fee.
Enjoy speaking English with confidence, and your language journey!
Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP
Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist
All About Accents
References: Behrman, A. (2017). A Clear Speech Approach to Accent Management. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 26(4), 1178-1192. doi:10.1044/2017_ajslp-16-0177