Ok, let’s be honest - a lot of people would be offended by the title of this blog post. Why would anyone want to reduce their native accent? After all, our accents are part of our identity, our own special branding and they connect us to others who share that accent.
But the truth is that for various reasons, some people feel that their accent is interfering with their work or life goals and decide that they do want to make some changes.
Is it possible to remove an accent completely and what is the goal?
Most people who come to us for help don’t want to eradicate their accent completely. After all, accents are a big part of who we are.
However, some do. If that’s you, it may be that you feel your accent no longer reflects how you see yourself or how you want to be seen. Perhaps you have lived in the UK for more than 30 years and your accent has stuck, or maybe you were born in the UK but spent a couple of formative years in another country and somehow picked up an accent that has never left. If this is the case, then we’ll work on the specific sounds that are holding on to your accent, usually, there are only a handful. And with committed work, you can remove all traces of the accent. Above all, there's no need to feel guilty about wanting to reduce or soften your accent.
The brain is a muscle so retraining it to make new sounds is a very similar process to going to a gym. With repeated and regular exercises, your muscles change and strengthen. It’s exactly the same when learning to take on new sounds and rhythms. Over about 10 weeks, if you practice regularly (5 to 10 minutes a day will do the trick) then several changes can be made, and over another 10 weeks, these can shift to the level of unconscious competence, meaning you’ll make the new sounds automatically.
In most cases though, more subtle changes are requested...
Perhaps you aren’t worried about your accent per se but you just want people to hear and concentrate on what you’re saying rather than getting caught on noticing your accent. Or you want to feel confident and fully yourself when speaking in English. Your command of the English language may well be extremely good but there may just be a few tweaks to certain sounds, and some changes to rhythm and intonation, that will make all the difference to your confidence and competence communicating in English.
More and more we’re finding clients choose to do a mixture of our accent softening and effective communication course, as they have a dual goal of wanting to take the edge off their accent, and be better in general communication at work, from delivering more powerful presentations through to articulating with clarity and succinctness in meetings.
Finally, people come to us if they have life goals or ambitions that they feel unable to fulfil due to their accent or use of the English language in front of an audience. We find with most of our clients that it is the work we do on intonation, melody, and effective communication that really gives people the tools to handle the language with complete confidence.
So while the answer is yes, with perseverance it is possible to remove an accent completely, in our experience, it is rarely about this. More often than not it comes back to learning how to be a great communicator in English. The accent is merely one aspect that can influence this.
How does accent reduction work?
There is more to accent reduction than many people realise.
There are the things you might expect - the focus on pronunciation to make sure there are no sounds that are getting in the way of the speaker being understood, helping to turn nervous communicators into a clear and confident speaker.
But there are also the things you might not expect. To get the most out of a language we need an idea of the psychology or melody of it. Have you ever noticed that different languages or dialects have different inflections or tones? Think about Australian and American accents. Probably the first thing that springs to mind is just how different the intonation and melody is.
Intonation is about the rise and fall of our voice as we string words together i.e. the fact we rise at the end of a question or our voice gets higher or faster when we’re excited. By gaining more of an understanding of the way a language works, a non-native speaker can get under the skin of it and learn to craft their speech in a more authentic way.
How does London Speech Workshop help with accent reduction?
We believe a shared focus on sounds and intonation is the best way to achieve success.
Step 1. Sorting out the sounds
Step one is to create a road map. We look at every single sound within spoken English and identify which ones are getting in the way of clear English, perhaps by holding on to an aspect of the speaker’s native accent.
From here we help people to move from the way they pronounce a word to the way they want to pronounce it. There is no judgement. This is not about the right or wrong way to say a word. It is about the speaker gaining the confidence to express themselves.
In order to do this, we will work on three things – all of which are common confusables when it comes to non-native speaking of English:
- We’ll work to correct the position or your tongue and the muscles in your mouth when you’re uttering each sound, through simple exercises and quick tricks.
- We’ll identify and practise the appropriate vowel length for various sounds and discuss the ability to create an emotional impact by drawing on these vowels.
- We’ll help you to better recognise sounds from their spellings, for instance ‘law’ can often be mispronounced ‘lau’. English is one of the most complicated languages when it comes to pronunciation variations, but we have plenty of memory aids to share.
Once we’ve tackled the basics, it is about getting them to stick and become second nature, like driving a car. This is done by building neural pathways and activating muscle memory through repetition and practise.
But don’t worry if you’re picturing the scene from My Fair Lady where Henry Higgins pops six marbles in Eliza Doolittle’s mouth, presumably to help her learn to enunciate sounds more clearly. Techniques have come a long way since the early 1900s - we use plenty of fun (and non-risky!) games to make the process easier.
We’ll move on to looking at whole words and spelling next, finding this can often be a sticking point when it comes to mastering the language. And then we start to make it real. We put the words into sentences, we use role play and more advanced exercises and games.
And finally, we give you tools to continue the journey yourself. We look at ways you can make the language your own, so it sounds natural and authentic rather than stiff and awkward.
Step 2. Improving intonation
While you are working on sounds, we also work on the more subtle aspects of language. We’ll address:
- Delivering your message: Teaching you how to project your energy outwards.
- Connecting with your audience: How to use empathy and positive body language to your advantage.
- Using pauses effectively: As Mark Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
- Emphasising important points: By using a combination of techniques.
- Injecting emotion: Through elongation of vowels and the use of powerful stories.
- Managing melody and tone: For more natural sounding English speech.
Through the combination of sound training and understanding of the many other aspects of language, you’ll quickly find you gain the confidence to take your English speaking to the next level and achieve your goals.
How long does it take to soften an accent?
Our techniques are powerful. You’ll be surprised how little time it takes:
- With 5 hour-long sessions, we’ll be able to get the ball rolling and make a few valuable tweaks that might make all the difference to the way you feel about your accent.
- With 10 hour-long sessions, we’ll be able to start building those all-important neural pathways.
- And in just 15 hour-long sessions we’ll be able to reach a state of unconscious competence.
The journey may sound like a long one, but we’ll always take it one step at a time at a pace to suit you. With application and perseverance, you will achieve confident, clear speech that makes you feel like you can do anything.
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.