Listening. Speaking. Clearly.

Case Studies

Career: Speech Pathologist
I'm a licensed Speech Pathologist who has been working in the field for eight years. My passion for accent modification began in graduate school, but job opportunities were very limited so I didn't pursue this career path. Then, when visiting Ann Arbor in 2009, I contacted ARI and quickly decided to join the team as an accent reduction specialist.

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do what I love most, work with people from different cultures. I've found that everyone I've worked with, no matter what their proficiency, is motivated to learn conversational English to get an edge in the marketplace. They're so driven to better themselves despite extensive work and family commitments.

I think accent reduction is different from therapy, although there's overlap. Accent reduction is much more comprehensive, a global approach. I feel it gives participants a bonus while enhancing their strengths. When they learn the rhythm and stress patterns, all of a sudden this language that seems random begins to make sense; it's as if a light bulb suddenly turns on. This is different than therapy, which focuses on setting very targeted goals and objectives that have to be met in a set time to help with specific difficulties.

My work with ARI makes me appreciate online learning. The format is very effective for giving visual and auditory feedback. Yet it's most rewarding for me to hear how pronunciation training has impacted the lives of our participants in a meaningful way. It's wonderful to see their excitement at getting complimented on their speech, something that had never happened before. They tell me they've noticed a change in the way people react to them, so then they have so much more confidence.

- ARI Instructor

Career: Biostatistical Engineer       Native Language: Mandarin Chinese
I'm a Biostatistical Engineer in the Life Sciences, and my native language is Mandarin Chinese. Although I am fluent in English, I realized I had an inability to communicate with clarity and ease. Not only did others have difficulty understanding and hearing the messages I was trying to convey, but I lacked the ability to understand others when they spoke to me. Due to these misunderstandings, I lacked confidence when I spoke or when I had to present in front of people. Also, my performance appraisal consistently indicated the need for improved communication skills.

My company sponsored a nine week small group program with ARI. Together with four of my co-workers, I participated in online sessions, which incorporated live visual cues in the pronunciation training. I also used audio cues to "tune my ear" for accurate pronunciations. Each week, I came to the session and also submitted multiple personal recordings for assessment and coaching. The practice assignments were self-paced and allowed me to work on my specific areas of difficulty. I improved my nasal consonant sounds and intonation, learned to eliminate extra vowel sounds, and began to recognize words with silent syllables.

After the training, I was able to self-correct mispronunciations. In fact, during my recent performance appraisal, there were comments on my remarkable communication skills improvements. I now have a better understanding of spoken messages due to correctly identifying pronunciations, and my speech improvements have enabled successful working relationships with other business groups.

Industry: Food Manufacturing
As a professional in one of the world's leading organizations for food manufacturing, my command of English was already pretty good when I got to the United States. However, as I began to work here, I realized people couldn't understand me because of my pronunciation. I knew I didn't need an ESL or other language class with grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing. What I did need was a pronunciation class.

I began training online one-on-one with an ARI instructor, and I found that distance learning was a very effective way to learn. It was extremely interactive, and my instructor was always very "present" and accessible to me. I liked being able to practice by bringing up cultural questions with my instructor. For the last ten minutes of each class we just talked about my questions and I practiced in context. For instance, we discussed idioms, and I had questions about the way people talk and think in the US. My instructor understood where I was coming from because she's traveled all over the world.

I knew the program was a success when I had a conversation with the VP of my company shortly after training ended. We were discussing critical approaches our company is taking and he commented on how much easier it was to understand me. He was really happy for me, and probably for himself as well! He wondered what I'd been doing to make such a noticeable change, and I knew it was thanks to the work I'd done with ARI.

Company: General Motors       Title: Manager of Diversity Initiatives
As Manager of Diversity Initiatives it is always inspiring to uncover new opportunities to improve the experience of people in the workplace. Judy Ravin and her team helped GM identify not one, but two huge opportunities for workers. The first was her Accent Reduction program for non-native English speakers. After offering the course to dozens of employees on a first come first served basis, my telephone was ringing off the hook to inquire when GM would be offering additional classes. More than one employee called me personally to thank me for the opportunity. The training brought the previously 'undiscussable' issue of communication challenges into the discussion for both leaders and non-native English speakers and allowed people to realize pronunciation issues were often communication issues.

Additionally, and in alignment with a robust diversity initiative where everyone shares the challenges and works to eliminate them, the Building Bridges course opened up an entirely new dialogue. Employees who only spoke one language were able to examine their own responsibility and have an opportunity to understand accents of their non-native English speaking clients and peers. The training leveled the playing field and built relationships where there was previously discomfort with the most basic communication.

After offering both courses, employees continued to reach out for more classes. When finances precluded that, many, at their own expense, reached out to Judy to embrace the gift of her training programs to help themselves and GM be more effective and efficient. I can't say enough about Judy's attention to the customer and commitment to a high quality experience for learners. I highly recommend ARI. Engaging in this learning is a powerful tool for employees and the business as well. A side benefit to a Diversity Strategy is that offering these courses opens a robust and important discussion for leaders on the business impact of diversity in the workplace, and Judy has statistics to show bottom line impact too!

Industry: Global Manufacturing
My company manufactures products globally, and thus, I am part of a very diverse workforce. I had concerns before beginning the program, because I knew people had difficulty understanding me. Yet, I worried I would not be able to make progress in such a short amount of time. Also, I wasn't sure if I would be able to practice enough to make progress and then I would be unsuccessful.

During my program, I met online with my instructor once a week for three and a half months. Learning online was just right. It felt the same as going to class, and it was as effective as being onsite in a physical classroom. Yet, the flexibility of participating virtually was easier. I greatly enjoyed learning why I had difficulty with my English pronunciation and where my particular challenges came from. My gratitude goes to my instructor, who always made the material interesting for me.

I believe my program was a complete success. When I think back on my initial concerns, I realize I made an extraordinary amount of progress. Also, the practice was so structured that I was able to make progress everywhere I needed to. I know I will continue to improve because I self-assess after every conversation, meeting, or presentation. I go over in my head the words and sounds I stumbled on and then practice, practice, practice. During the conversations, I stop and re-start with the right pronunciation. I now have the tools to keep improving in my personal and professional life.

Industry: Global Food Manufacturing
I work for a global food manufacturer, and though I didn't notice my own accent, people frequently asked me to repeat myself on the phone. Because of this, I began my individual online program with ARI. In the beginning, I was worried about the virtual classrooms, because I was unsure how effective it could be to learn online with an instructor. Yet, as the program continued, I realized my instructor, together with the learning materials and platform, worked together wonderfully. I began to see that I was making progress.

I loved the structure of the program, from the initial and final assessments that provided a metric of my progress, to the design of the weekly learning sessions. I've taken other language training in the past, and it was mostly based on memory. This program is different because it emphasizes practicality and teaches you how to use your skills in the right way.

I believe this program will help me in terms of my ability to engage people and allow them to understand my points and want to adopt them. I know the program was a success because when I DON'T use my new skills and am not mindful of my pronunciation, the OnStar system in my car can't understand me. This is particularly true with numbers. But when I speak paying attention to the ways my instructor taught me, then OnStar understands me perfectly.

Industry: Global Software Solutions
My company offers software solutions throughout the world, and I feel like I used to stand out because of my poor pronunciation. I began doing a distance learning program with ARI and believe this was a very effective way to learn. In fact, it was the missing piece to my training. I found myself preparing more for online training than in-person training. My instructor kept it fun and interesting while adjusting to me needs. She addressed each of my individual vocabulary words every week and encouraged me to practice. She also helped me to speak more slowly, which is very important for me. This allows me to pronounce each sound in every word. Also, the book and CD are great tools for helping me continue to practice on my own and take responsibility for my own learning.

I could communicate before, but this program took my English to the next level. I'm more confident, and that makes a HUGE difference. I no longer hold back, and speaking comes more naturally. The program also allowed me to open up to a different perspective on language. English used to just be something that I had to learn. But now I think it is a beautiful language. I like discovering its nuances. This course woke me up to having an interest in English, not just because I have to use it, but because now I love it. I feel totally different now.

Industry: Information Technology
I work for an international IT company and decided to do this training because I have a one-on-one meeting with my boss every two weeks. I'm the only person based outside of the US, so I constantly ask my boss what I can improve. My boss said sometimes people don't understand me, or misunderstand me, because of my accent. This was my first experience with distance learning and it went great. I found it to be very 'real'. I could concentrate well on what we were doing and didn't have to focus on the technology. It was like I was with my instructor in the same room. She taught me how to listen when people ask me to repeat myself. I can now self-correct. I'm not asked anymore to repeat myself on the phone, which is important because I often have to discuss provisions in contract terms. I HAVE to speak clearly in order to do this. Now I know I have to consciously pronounce each sound, not take short cuts, think about my speech, and SLOW DOWN. I had to be aware of slowing down my rate of speech in English because my first language is spoken much faster. My instructor also taught me to pronounce the end of each word, which is very important in English.

I believe that I now have the tools I need to continue building my proficiency. It's been one month and I continue to practice. My boss even gave me feedback and says he hears the improvement in my pronunciation. I believe that, due to the 'deep' study we did on individual sounds and pronunciation, I now feel the improvement in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. Other accent reduction programs don't have this kind of 'deep' guidance and teaching of pronunciation. It's always secondary to conversation, grammar, and vocabulary.

From Our Clients

"I used to dread talking on the phone. I was always trying to find ways to write; if I write then the person can read it. Talking on the phone was so awful, but now I have a telephone conversation and nobody asks me to repeat myself. It's really exciting!"

- Yasmin Zakari, ARI Participant and ESL Student

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