“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Accent reduction, also known as accent modification and accent neutralization, is the process of learning how to pronounce the sounds of any given language. In the United States, these terms refer almost exclusively to the accent patterns of Standard American English. “Accent reduction”, “accent modification” and “accent neutralization” are used interchangeably by both instructors and learners. At Accents International, we also use the term “accent acquisition”. We teach non-native English speakers how to acquire the sounds in English needed for ease and efficacy of oral communication.
Why Accent Modification is often neglected: A few urban myths
• Pronunciation isn’t necessary for effective communication. False. That’s like saying grammar and vocabulary are irrelevant. The sound of a word imparts its meaning. If one person says ‘depend’ and the other hears ‘defend’, the message sent doesn’t match the message received. This is a perfect definition of a misunderstanding.
• It’s impossible for adults to master a new accent. False. It’s not that adults can’t learn a new accent, it’s that adults learn differently than children. When adults receive step-by-step instruction, and in-the-moment feedback, they consistently acquire each and every sound of the accent in question. Just like children, however, consistent use (aka, practice) is key.
• If I have an accent, I need accent modification. False. Everyone has an accent. Another word for accent is ‘pronunciation’. Along with grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation is the third leg of the communication stool. Without any one of these three components, communication breaks down. The question is not whether someone has an accent, it’s whether the accent deviates from the standard to such a degree that a disconnect occurs between the speaker and listener. Should the latter be the case, accent modification is a tried and true solution.
The shared goal of accent reduction, accent modification, and accent neutralization is not that we all sound the same. It’s that we’re all understood.