Hey Y’all, what’s an accent?

Written by Ann M. Pannell, MA CCC-SLP, Owner of Clarity Speech Coaching, www.clarityspeechcoaching.com

My own dreams fortunately came true in this great state [California]. I became Mr. Universe; I became a successful businessman. And even though some people say I still speak with a slight accent, I have reached the top of the acting profession.

~Arnold Schwarzenegger

When I think about someone speaking English with an accent, my immediate response is an accent can be their best asset, and it should be  something to be proud of. Let’s face it, if you are speaking English with an accent you are speaking your second or third language; well done you! (Unless of course you are from the United Kingdom, and well…that is an entirely different blog post!).

So, what exactly is an accent?

Put in simple terms: An accent is the way you sound when you speak or the
pronunciation of a language. But that is not where it ends…

There are two different kinds of accents. One is a ‘foreign’ accent; this
accent occurs when a person speaks one language using some of the rules or sounds from their first language. For example, if a person has trouble pronouncing some of the sounds of a second language they are learning, they may substitute similar sounds that occur in their first language. This sounds wrong, or ‘foreign’, to native speakers of the language.

The other kind of accent is the way a group of people speak their native
language. This is determined by where they live and what social groups they belong to. People who live in close contact share a way of speaking, or accent, which will differ from the way other groups in other geographical areas speak. You may notice that someone has a New York accent, for example, particularly if you’re not from New York yourself. You notice it  because it’s different from the way you speak.

In theory, everybody has an accent – in somebody else’s opinion!

But why are non-native English speakers pronouncing certain sounds
that way ?

Speakers have difficulty pronouncing sounds that do not exist in the
language (or languages) that they first learned as a young child. We are born capable of both producing and perceiving all of the sounds of all human languages. By the time we are about a year old, we have learned to ignore most distinctions among sounds that don’t matter in our native language. The older we get, the harder it becomes to learn the sounds that are part of a different language.

As a Speech Language Pathologist, I have an expertise in the correct production of the sounds of American English, and the correct manner in which they should be articulated. I have the ability to categorize, and  classify sounds, according to certain qualities, including the location or parts of the mouth involved in producing the sounds.

At this point in your reading I want to make clear that an accent is in no way considered a disordered way of speaking: it is a different way of speaking. An accent does not need to be an obstacle to professional success and having sound relationships.

Is there any hope for MY pronunciation of English !?

Of course there is, and let’s revisit Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is worth noting that Arnold most certainly would have worked on his pronunciation, intonation and English communication skills with the help of a professional along the way ( as many famous people do!).

An accented speaker of a language is not automatically a poor speaker or possessing a limited command of the language. Speaking ” performances” , as I view them, are impacted by many factors: your confidence level, your familiarity with the material and your well being. I want you to think about your own ” performances” when speaking English and the impact of the above mentioned factors. I have good news, these factors can be addressed and new speaking and communication behaviors can be taught, and I am here to help.

What is Accent Modification Coaching?

Accent Modification is a structured training program to teach and train pronunciation and speaking behaviors for improved clarity of English Communication. Our communication skills are on a continuum and with increased awareness and practice you will hear changes and have more confidence when speaking English. The purpose of investing in Accent Modification, is to be able to control your speech and pronunciation skills which will allow you to communicate your thoughts and ideas on the first attempt. The goal is never to eliminate the presence of your accent, it is to improve the clarity and accuracy of your spoken English for better communication. And…this is NOT at the expense of your cultural identity – you are choosing to learn new skills ( via accent modification) that you can activate in the appropriate setting.

If you have more questions, or if this article has peaked your interest, I would like to hear from you.

Let’s Talk!

Please contact me with questions at [email protected]