Should non-native English speakers drop, change or soften their accents? Your first instinct may be an indignant “of course not!” And in a way, we agree. But as with many things in life that seem clear cut, the reality is a little more complex than our first instinct might suggest. Let’s explore…
A bit about accents
Here at London Speech Workshop we value accents. Accents are an important part of who we are. They hold within them clues to our identity. They create links with our past, our homelands, our childhood. And they usually bond us irrevocably to our nearest and dearest.
While many people take great pride in their accent, at times an accent can be perceived as a barrier to entry. Some non-native speakers of English admit that they feel their accent prevents them from fully integrating into social circles or means that others form judgments on their skills and abilities at work. This fact may be unpalatable, but unfortunately, it’s human nature - it’s how we’ve evolved.
So we totally understand why many of our clients come to us with the desire to soften their accents. There’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of.
Should you drop your native accent?
The short answer is not necessarily. If your accent doesn’t impact on your every day, if you’re happy, making friends and find you’re able to communicate well with those around you then absolutely not. Revel in the joy of an accent that is different to those around you and the intrigue it evokes in others.
But there may be some circumstances in which you feel you do want to consider making some changes.
Reasons why you might want to change or soften your accent
- You’re surrounded by one accent and feel that you stand out like a sore thumb. Particularly at work this may feel like a disadvantage to you, perhaps leaving you overlooked for promotions or opportunities.
- You’ve lived here many years, you feel British, your kids are British, to all intents and purposes you are British. But your accent is at odds with that. Perhaps you’d like some tips to soften it slightly.
- You’ve been passed up for promotion and you feel it might be because of poor communication. Perhaps there are parts of your speech that you feel less than confident about, or maybe you have no idea which elements you should be working on.
- You feel your accent gets in the way when presenting When you stand up to address the room you find yourself tripping over words and worrying you’re not being understood.
- You’re frequently misunderstood. Whether on a telephone conference or face to face in a meeting, if you’re struggling to get people on your side or you often have to repeat what you say you might feel it’s worth smoothing out some of the edges of your accent.
- You’re met with blank faces when you try to tell jokes and stories to friends, making you feel like an outsider, like you’re not one of the ‘tribe’. You feel that understanding how to get the intonation right, could help you fit in.
If you find yourself nodding along with any of the above statements, you don’t necessarily need to think about dropping your accent completely. But you might want to consider making a few changes.
Making positive changes to your accent
In the first instance, your priority should be making sure you can be easily understood. That’s the most important thing. After that, it’s all about using language to full effect. Learning to understand and use the melody of language as well as the psychology and impact of the words you’re using. And this is something that everyone needs to do to be an excellent communicator, regardless of whether or not they have an accent that makes them stand out from those around them.
How accent softening works
Our clients find that working with us on Accent Softening helps them speak in a way that boosts their confidence by reducing mistakes and misunderstandings. At first, they have to make a conscious effort to adjust the way they speak but it soon becomes natural and effortless - much like driving a car. That’s because practice builds neural pathways in the brain, taking you through from conscious competence to unconscious competence. It is possible to make the changes you want to make!
Should you change or soften your native accent?
So, should you change your accent? London Speech Workshop’s position in this debate is simple. We believe it’s important to soften your accent only as much as you need to so that it doesn’t get in the way of your goals and your wellbeing - and this will be different for everyone. After that, it’s about providing the support and tools to help you become the best communicator you can be.
If you want to make changes to your accent then there’s no reason to feel guilty. It’s up to you to decide what works for you.
With our Accent Softening course, we’ll work with you on every sound that is leading to confusion, misunderstanding or blank looks, so that when you open your mouth to speak, your words come out as you intended.
If you’d like to find out more about accent softening contact us on 020 3137 6323 for an informal chat. Or download our free Accent Softening eBook.