Below are answers to some of the questions that I get asked most frequently. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
What is accent reduction?
Accent reduction refers to the skilled process of retraining your auditory perceptual and oral-motor skills so that your speech sounds, linking, intonation and stress patterns, and overall rhythm, match that of a native speaker of your target language. You can think of it as reducing the effects of your native language’s phonetic and phonological systems on your perception and production of Standard American English; alternatively, you can think of it as the acquisition of new sounds and patterns that you currently aren’t hearing and using. While the most common term for this type of training is accent reduction, the process should more accurately be considered simply as learning new sounds and patterns, since overall, you will be gaining skills, not losing or reducing your skills in any language.
What is the difference between Accent Reduction and Accent Modification?
These terms are used interchangeably to refer to the process of acquiring the speech sounds, stress and intonation patterns of a non-native dialect or language. Please read the response above for additional information.
What is a “Standard American Accent”?
The Standard American Accent was formed in the interior of the United States from a combination of dialects that mixed over time. This is the accent that has become accepted as “standard” in that it does not easily identify the speaker as being from a particular area; in other words, it is not a regional accent. Someone from Boston, New Jersey, or Texas, for example, all use particular patterns that highlight that they are likely from each of those areas, whereas someone who uses the Standard American Accent could be from one of many places, without giving clear indicators of a specific city or state.
Do you teach the Canadian or American accent? Are these the same?
While there are obvious similarities between these accents compared to English from another continent, in general, it is immediately apparent whether someone is from Canada or the United States. I have found that many Canadians think that they sound like Americans, but Americans can immediately identify a Canadian. Standard American English is typically more relaxed and reduced, and Standard Canadian English leans more so towards British English and shows less of these features. Is there a better target to aim for? It entirely depends upon your goals, and the circumstances in which you find yourself. It is not a matter of one accent being right, and the other wrong- they are different, and they identify you as a member of a distinct group. Many of my clients have a clear goal from the outset of their program, however if you aren’t sure whether your target should be Canadian or American English, we can discuss your personal situation and what makes sense for you at your evaluation.
I just want to sound more “neutral” rather than American or Canadian – is this possible?
Because individuals in every area have a distinct manner of speaking, the idea of “neutral” will be a question of relativity based on your target audience. It would be impossible to give someone a neutral accent without a context, because what is “standard” to a speaker in Chicago, is “accented” to a speaker in Houston, or London. And vice versa. So if your target audience is within North America, we can achieve a more “neutral” accent by giving your speech features that most North Americans use, based upon speech sounds, linking, stress, and intonation patterns.
How does the process work?
The first step in the process is the evaluation- this is a 1-hour meeting in which I will learn about your goals, and collect spoken data to analyze exactly which patterns you are using that differ from the Standard American (or should you choose, Canadian) Accent. After our in-person meeting, I do a very detailed, individualized analysis, which I present to you in a written report. The evaluation is the document upon which we base all of our classes together, because we will only be covering the specific topics which are relevant to you. Afterwards, we meet once weekly until we cover all of the material that was indicated on your evaluation report. The goal of each session is for you to understand the target, produce it correctly, and become skilled in identifying whether you hit the target or not. You will learn to think about of the nuances of each sound/pattern objectively, so that you can fine tune each production, be confident that you are producing it accurately, and continue to practice effectively on your own, after each class. It takes an average of 10-12 classes following the evaluation to cover all of the material, though this range may be higher or lower depending upon your specific situation. After covering the material, many clients opt to continue to attend practice sessions, to consolidate all of the material, or to focus on any topics that may have been particularly difficult.
Will we target English pronunciation in this training, or is that something different?
Yes, we absolutely do. The definition below of the word “pronunciation” is from dictionary.com, and it nicely puts into perspective what the word really means:
“the act or result of producing the sounds of speech, including articulation, stress, and intonation, often with reference to some standard of correctness or acceptability”
So in this case, our “standard of correctness or acceptability” is the Standard American Accent, and we will be working on your perception and production of American English speech sounds, stress patterns, and intonation patterns, which combined, produce the very characteristic rhythm of Standard American English.
Do you also offer training via Skype?
Yes, I do! I happily work with clients from all over the world via Skype, and since the majority of my clients are busy professionals, many living right here in Montréal choose to work with me online as well to avoid traffic, reduce commute times, and to have greater flexibility in scheduling. Video sessions are also a great option for in-person clients who can occasionally switch to Skype for their convenience in special circumstances- for example, when traveling abroad, or in adverse weather conditions, which are known to occur here in Montréal once in a while… 🙂