What is accent reduction? Can you succeed at accent neutralization? What is accent training?
Do you truly need to reduce or neutralize your accent for that perfect job? Let's begin by saying that there is no neutral accent. Everyone has an accent, including me, a native-born North American. It is just that mine is different from the next speaker of my target language, in this case, English.
Unless one has a natural talent for mimicking others, or is an actor being provided a speech coach four hours a day for four months while rehearsing for a film or play, realistic expectations should be set. Research shows that after puberty, it is rare to be able to replace one's L1 (first language) accent with another accent.
Hands On Accent Reduction Training
My experience training call center representatives in the Philippines and India for work with North American clients and customers has been a challenge. Don't despair, though, because there are many things you can do to so that native English speakers and L2 English speakers can understand you better. Before I go into accent training software programs or live accent reduction providers, here are a few things you can do. I suggest recording yourself on tape (mark the date) and listen to yourself carefully.
1. Slow down! It may seem counter-intuitive that the slower you speak the less noticeable your accent is, but it's true.
- 2. Are you speaking too softly? If so, increase your volume by standing/sitting up straight so that your diaphragm does its job efficiently. Practice projecting your voice with friends.
3. If you use a microphone for your job (as in a call center), check your mic placement (have a colleague/supervisor call you and record you) to make sure you are not breathing heavily into the mic. Even if you are speaking clearly and at the right pace and volume, your voice will sound muffled to the listener.
4. Are you enunciating properly? Open your mouth more and exaggerate your tongue, lip and facial movements if you want to sound more American. For speakers who naturally keep these movements to a minimum, exaggerating may not even bring them to half of the movements of a native-born American. It will feel funny at first, but ask native listeners if they hear a difference.
More Accent Training Tips
Once you have decided that you want to reduce your accent, you need to commit.
Start by turning off your local TV stations. Commit to only listening to programs (of all types) in your target language. Start by committing to one day a week, from the moment you wake up until the time you hit the bed. Listen to Voice of America or BBC radio programs if you cannot access English language TV. Next commit to two days a week, then three, and so on. No access to cable TV? Get English language videos or DVDs. Use the rewind feature to listen again and again.
If you have internet access, you are in luck. There are many websites that offer listening excerpts of Canadian, Scottish, Indian, Australian, USA , etc., speakers and many have exercises to accompany them. There are many streaming radio broadcasts online to listen to live or recorded news and programs of interest, and it is all free. Use your lunch hour at work to listen if you do not have access at home, school or cybercafé.
Now, set that tape of yourself aside. You will want to come back to it a few weeks from now to compare your progress.