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Accent reduction, also known as elocution, accent modification, accent neutralization, or deaccentation, is a systematic approach for learning or adopting a new accent. It is the process of learning the sound system (or phonology) of a language or dialect. The method involves several steps, which include identifying deviations in the person's current speech from the desired accent (such as pronunciation, speech patterns, and speech habits), changing the way one uses the mouth, teeth, and tongue to form vowel and consonant sounds, modifying one's intonation and stress patterns, and changing one's rhythm. Using this method, individuals (such as those mastering a second language) may alter their speech to more closely resemble the accent of a certain group of people, and thus enhance the clarity of their communication with those people.
Two distinct types of accent reduction coaching are available: coaching targeted at telemarketers, which generally focuses on helping people to say scripted speech with a more "native-like" accent, and coaching typically offered to business people, which is usually geared towards assisting people to minimize miscommunication in spontaneous, conversational speech. This distinction is important because, while it is sometimes possible for adults to say limited pre-rehearsed phrases with little or no accent, most experts agree that adults cannot learn to speak with no foreign accent in live, everyday speech. Therefore, a person who receives coaching targeted at scripted situations will sometimes achieve very good results when reading from a script, but will not usually improve in real, everyday speech. On the other hand, a person who receives training targeted at everyday speaking situations will experience a reduction in miscommunications in live, speaking situations. When choosing an accent coach, it is important to pick a coach who understands the type of coaching needed.
Accent modification is offered by various certified speech-language trainers, linguists, and specialists in ESL. In the United States, they are promoted by various organizations including the Accent Reduction Training Association (ARTA), the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA), and the Voice & Speech Trainers Association (VASTA). Accent reduction training is available in a variety of ways: through classroom training, seminars, and workshops; one-to-one in person, or by telephone or webcam; or via apps, books, recordings, or software products.
Accent improvement focuses on teaching students how to pronounce difficult sounds such as /θ/, /ð/, /r/, /l/, and /w/; intonation, stress, and rhythm. Spanish and Portuguese speakers might add an /h/ before the vowel /ɪ/, as in "his" for "is". Therefore vowel sounds are also covered in accent reduction training. Practicing of the vowel /ɪ/ most commonly spelled "i" is done by reciting a few of the following differences: his versus is, hit versus it, hill versus ill. By not letting the back of their tongue touch the palate, native speakers of Asian languages (Chinese, etc.) can avoid adding a /j/ before the /ɪ/ for example in speaking "yin" instead of "in". Specialists also use activities, games, and printable workbooks to help students practice what they learn.
Although the accents can be reduced through training, some linguists warn against giving students a false hope that they will lose their accents. According to Dennis Baron, a linguistics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, eliminating an accent is difficult. Calming an accent, he said, takes years of interaction with native English speakers. Even so, under U.S. labor law, employers can make job decisions based on accent if it interferes with work. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does receive a small number of complaints every year from individuals who believe they are victims of accent-related job discrimination.
The actors Portia de Rossi, Anthony La Paglia, and Charlize Theron are examples of notable people who received such training to lose their native accents and develop American accents, even in everyday speech.
With regard to English accent training, the two most distinct choices of accent reduction are the British or American pathways. However the Australian method of received pronunciation is increasingly preferred by Asian nations, given the two regions' geographic proximity; this is an important consideration given the rise of Asia's economic strength and choice in education.
- Pennycook, Alistair (1999). "Introduction: Critical Approaches to TESOL". Tesol Quarterly 33 (3): 329–348. doi:10.2307/3587668. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- Hope, Donna (2006). American English Pronunciation: It's No Good Unless You're Understood. Cold Wind Press. p. 10. ISBN 1-58631-050-X.
- Gorman, Anna (October 23, 2007). "Surge in accent reduction classes speaks volumes (Immigrants and others wanting to sound more American flock to the courses. But some linguists are skeptical.)". Los Angeles Times. Part B (Home Edition). p. 1.
- "Accent Reduction". ESL-Guide.com.