” If ye want to understand macroeconomics, ye need to understand cubs ! “
My fellow students in the lecture hall looked at each other nervously. We were all business degree students in our first year of university, struggling to come to grips with the subject matter. And it didn’t help that our lecturer was a gruff Scottish professor with a notoriously short fuse.
One of the bravest in our bunch raised his hand and asked.
” Um. Sorry, but what do you mean by … cubs ? “
The professor drilled a hole in the poor guy with a silent gaze, and finally replied in his thick Glaswegian accent.
” Cubs, boy. Ye know, like thas … “
He began to angrily draw semi-circular lines on the whiteboard.
” Am I naw speakin’ English, lad ? “
” Cubs! CUBS !! “
(He was talking about “curves”) 🙄
This is a true story from my own university days. It highlights the problem that even “native” English speakers encounter when they have thick regional accents.
Now add into the mix a person who is already uncertain in their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.
You can soon see why even intermediate and advanced English learners worry about their accent and lack confidence in expressing themselves.
And for good reason. A strong accent can impact negatively on how non-native speakers are perceived by others. An academic study by the University of Chicago in 2010 found that heavy accents subconsciously create a negative impression to the listener. Shiri Lev-Ari, a post-doctoral researcher, and Boaz Keysar, a professor of psychology and a specialist in communication showed that a heavy accent that is difficult to understand will cause others to doubt the truthfulness of whatever the person is saying.
This of course has repercussions for non-native speakers in both their professional and personal lives. All of which means that there is an opportunity for independent ESL teachers to offer accent reduction training to students and increase their teaching income accordingly.
To better understand what accent reduction training is all about, I conducted an email interview with Barbara Christensen, an experienced expert in the field.
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What’s your professional background, where are you now and what are you doing currently?
I have a BS Degree in Speech Communication and a MA degree in Speech – Language Pathology. I worked as a traditional speech-language pathologist until I started my corporate business, Speech Advantage (www.SpeechAdvantage.com) in 1999. I now only work with accent reduction clients and am fortunate to LOVE my work!
Providing accent reduction training is just as rewarding to me as it is to my clients. I love hearing about how they got the job they interviewed for, did great on a presentation, or received a promotion. Their successes are my successes!
Offering accent reduction training can be a very lucrative add-on to an existing ESL business, and I’d love to help you achieve that!
What is accent reduction, accent modification, accent neutralization? And are they simply different words for the same thing?
Accent reduction, accent modification, and accent neutralization are all the same things. Some call it “accent elimination” but that term is typically not accepted by professionals as our goal is not to totally eliminate the accent (which is unrealistic to say we could do that in only a few months time) but rather to help clients be understood the first time they say something.
Reducing or modifying an accent takes away the frustration of always encountering miscommunications or being asked to repeat all the time. Clients frequently report increased confidence while speaking English after completing an accent reduction course. Therefore, they feel more comfortable speaking out in the workplace as well as in their personal lives.
What demographic of English learners typically come to you for accent reduction training? Is it adults, teens, young learners? Beginner, intermediate or advanced?
Most people who seek out accent reduction training are adults who already speak English at a moderate to advanced level of competency. We do not teach vocabulary or grammar; we work on English clarity when speaking. Sometimes clients pay out of pocket and sometimes their company will pay out of their corporate training budgets.
What motivates students to seek out accent reduction training?
The reason given from people contacting us for our services is that they want to improve their spoken English so they can be better understood at work. They know that if they can easily communicate with their co-workers, clients, and colleagues, this could lead to more responsibilities at work thus a job promotion.
Another reason they contact us is that they are tired of always being asked, “Could you repeat that?”
Can you give some examples of situations where accent reduction may help a client achieve success in their personal or professional lives?
There are many examples! Here are just a few:
1) A foreign born doctor has great clinical skills but is difficult to understand by his patients and staff. Patients want a physician who they can fully communicate with on their team. Hospitals want good patient reviews for their doctors and communication is a key component of patient care. Also, the medical community cannot afford to have miscommunications. In healthcare, a miscommunication can be deadly.
2) A researcher has abundant knowledge and needs to be able to give presentations in English about his/her research to an international audience. Being clearly understood during these presentations could lead to additional grants for companies/universities and could lead to promotions for the researcher.
3) Competition for jobs is fierce. A non-native English speaker wants to have the best advantage possible when looking for a job. If they can be easily understood, it will only benefit them during an interview and make them more competitive in the job market.
Are accent reduction strategies something that ALL language instructors can successfully work into their curriculum?
Yes, with some training! It would be difficult to start from scratch without some guidance of how to do accent reduction training.
I actually have a couple of new courses coming this spring and summer on how to work with accent reduction clients. See below for more info!
What kinds of techniques do trainers traditionally employ to help clients who seek accent reduction?
Each client who enrolls in accent reduction training has unique needs. No two people are alike even if they have the same native language. This is because there are many influences on their English pronunciation such as the region of their home country they came from, the accents of their teachers, and other languages that they speak.
After assessing our students, we work on patterns for more efficient learning. Some of these patterns may include voicing, tongue/lip placements, final consonant deletions, final consonant voicing, rate, voice projection, vowel differences, pitch, stress, and melody of English – just to name a few!
What is your digital product, and how could it help ESL freelancers who want to offer accent reduction training?
Thanks for asking! I have developed an in-depth accent reduction software system called Accent Freedom (www.AccentFreedom.com). This software is a helpful tool for speech professionals who want to start an accent reduction business or to add accent reduction services onto an existing business.
Accent Freedom has over 330 pre-written lessons to use with students. The instructor (you!) can just pick the ones appropriate for your client to work on in class and then assign the lessons for the clients to practice for their homework – all right on the software. This makes prep for your sessions VERY easy and saves you time!
There are over 5,000 embedded audios to listen to and an onsite recorder, so the user can compare the instructor’s pronunciations to their own pronunciations. They can also upload their audios to you, their instructor, for feedback on their homework!
If ESL teachers want to learn more by adding accent reduction coaching to their repertoire, how can they get in touch with you or subscribe to your digital offer?
We are currently offering a free webinar to demonstrate the Accent Freedom software. We also offer a few other courses:
1) Accent Reduction: The Basics. This course gives an overview of the accent reduction profession and explains how to start a business or add this specialty on to an existing business.
2) Accent Freedom: Evaluation and Teaching Methods. This course takes you through the process of providing accent reduction training for clients.
3) Accent Reduction Group Training – Beyond Individuals. This course will help you expand your business by offering this specialty to groups thus expanding your bottom line.
You can contact me at Barb@SpeechAdvantage.com for more info or to be contacted when a specific course is going to be offered. I would love to introduce you to this rewarding as well as potentially lucrative specialty. The transition of ESL professional to accent reduction professional is quite feasible. I look forward to hearing from you!
The author of this post lives in Japan with his wife and family. He has taught English part-time (online and off) for more than a decade. He is passionate about WordPress consulting, online marketing and using the power of the internet to help people achieve their dreams.
He thinks that until you’ve tried sashimi tuna with wasabi, soy sauce, hot sake and a cold beer chaser, you just haven’t lived.