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Tips for Accent Reduction

5 years ago
Many ESL learners are concerned about eliminating their accents, but before you run out and spend hundreds of dollars on the latest pronunciation course, let me give you some things to think about.

First, the main goal of any pronunciation course should be to focus on accent reduction, not accent elimination, which is virtually impossible. Rather, students should work on reducing areas of their pronunciation that affect comprehensibility, that is, areas of their accents that make it difficult for native speakers to understand them.

Second, with this goal in mind, students need to be able to identify which specific areas of pronunciation give them the most trouble. Of course, there are universal areas of pronunciation that affect specific language groups, and reading up on these commonalities will help you. Furthermore, if you take a class on pronunciation, the teacher probably will ask you to record a speech sample which can be analyzed to check which specific areas you need to work on, for example, vowel and consonant sounds, word and sentence stress, and word reductions, and linking, and intonation.

Finally, you need to practice these features in different situations, from very structured exercises to extemporaneous speech. In other words, let's say you are focusing on past tense, -ed endings (e.g., worked, played, constructed, learned, etc.). The first step would be able to recognize and produce the corrected pronunciation of the endings of each word in isolation by repeating them; however, this does not guarantee that you will be able to use them in natural conversation. Thus, you might want to record yourself talking about the past weekend and what you did---again, using past tenses. Rewind the recording and check to see how well you formed the verbs and if you pronounced them correctly.

Here are some more quick techniques to try.

Tip #1:  Work With an ESL tutor

I always say, we don't know what we don't know. Get help from an ESL tutor to find out what you corrections might help you the most.   An expert in ESL learning can help identify your specific problem areas and give you exercises for improving pronunciation.  You can often find tutors (or even classes) for ESL students that are free through local libraries colleges, and non-profit organizations.

Tip #2:  Watch YouTube

There are YouTube channels devoted to accent reduction and American English pronunciation. For example, the Rachel’s English channel offers videos on pronunciation, idioms, grammar, and everyday English.

Tip #3:  Listen to an Accent You Want to Imitate

Another option is to record and imitate an accent you really like.  For example, this could be a news anchor, a character on TV, or a classroom teacher.  Listen to them as often as you can and try imitating their pronunciation. Turn on your local NPR station in the car and repeat the exact pronunciation and intonation of the speaker.
If you are new to this technique, try listening to a podcast instead because you can slow down the rate to half speed and pause wherever you need. This will help you to get the rhythm of English.  English words are often connected together—two words sound like one—so practicing this technique will make your pronunciation sound less robotic. Plus it's fun to hear how others pronounce and phrase their words.

Tip #4:  Listen to an Audiobook, Record, and Compare

My next suggestion is to listen to an audiobook where the pronunciation is one that you want to imitate.  The idea is to listen to a sentence, then turn off the book, and record yourself saying the same sentence.  Then compare the two sentences and see if you can identify the errors in your pronunciation.  If you can’t hear any difference, ask a trusted native speaker friend if they can tell you which words need more practice.

Tip #5:  Use Dictionary.com

If you’re wondering how to pronounce the word “scissors” for example, search for it on Dictionary.com. It will show you the pronunciation like this; [siz-erz]. You can click on the speaker icon next to the word and a voice will read the word for you.  Of course, you can also buy an electronic dictionary that includes a speaker to hear pronunciations. But Dictionary.com is a wonderful free resource.

These tips and resources will help you learn correct pronunciations and other rules for everyday English. Accent modification is one of those things that takes daily practice—like learning ballet or a musical instrument.  But you don't have to spend hours upon hours on it every day. Practicing consistently for just 15 minutes a day will make a difference. 

You can practice on your own, but an even better way is to go out and talk with people. Ask a native English speaker to ask you questions about yourself that require more than a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Go out to lunch with coworkers. Talk to the checkout person at the grocery store. Record yourself once in a while and listen to see how you’ve improved. Use every chance you get to practice what you’ve learned. It’s not easy, and while you may not be able to eliminate your accent, it is definitely possible to reduce your accent.  Just remember that improving your pronunciation will take a lot of patience and commitment.

If you want to practice your pronunciation or conversation skills, email me with your needs or sign up for a trial lesson. Good luck! =)

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