Accent Reduction Today: Aims and Benefits

Accent reduction, accent softening and English pronunciation courses remain popular with non-native speakers around the world. In the 15 years I’ve been a trainer in this field, I’ve helped thousands of people from multiple language backgrounds work on English vowels, consonants, rhythm and intonation via one-to-one live Zoom training and online self-study programmes.

But what actually is the point of this training in a modern world?

Core aims of English pronunciation training

My clients tend to fall into two main groups: those who simply want to improve pronunciation clarity and be understood, and those who want their accents to sound as ‘native’ as possible at work and in life.

The first group often get asked to repeat themselves, and they want this to happen less. We work on the main pronunciation points that could cause misunderstanding (e.g. distinguishing seat from sit; thing from sing; lack from luck) until the client feels confident that they are speaking English clearly with most people most of the time.

For the second group, there are various individual reasons for wanting to sound as ‘native English’ as possible. The client may want their listeners to focus on their message rather than the way they pronounce words, to avoid the constant ‘Where are you from?’ For some, it’s simply a long-held dream! We work within a British accent model with the aim of ‘switching on’ the new accent choice whenever the client chooses.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Feelings around accent are deeply individual. Some people feel perfectly comfortable with people commenting on their pronunciation, considering it a fun conversation starter. Others feel less at ease with attention and comments on their accent. Both are valid, just like all accents and choices are valid.

The main benefits my clients report are increased confidence, clarity and confidence when speaking English, which is definitely useful in Zoom meetings, presentations, interviews, social chats…and more!

Additional benefits of accent reduction training

I don’t love the term accent reduction. While it’s a useful, recognisable label, the work has nothing to do with reducing. It is about gaining a new skill that clients can use when they want, a bit like being able to play the piano. The original accent (collection of pronunciation habits) is still there to use whenever a person likes, there’s just an additional choice now.

Aside from the obvious gains of increased clarity or a new accent option, my clients have reported some other added benefits from the training:

Clear accent model

Seeking pronunciation guidance as a non-native English speaker can be confusing! English is full of different accents and conflicting advice, so it can be hard to know what to aim towards. In my training, the ‘target model’ accent is based on a modern, fresh version of RP (Received Pronunciation), the closest thing we have in British English to a standard. It is not necessarily a ‘better’ accent – no accent is – but it is widely understood, often used in national broadcasting, and is the most common framework in published pronunciation materials. My clients report that simply having a clear model to aim towards is helpful as it cuts out a lot of confusion.

Better understanding of native speakers

Working with sound opens up our ears. When we get more awareness and control of how our mouth positions produce and modify vowels and consonants, we start to hear distinctions we’d never noticed before. This sharpening of the ear means that we can pick out other speakers’ sounds more precisely, so we understand them better. My clients have often said that they felt at first that native speakers were ‘eating’ their words, but after training, the sound patterns seem much clearer.

Clearer pronunciation + more precise listening = smoother communication and time saved all round!

Confident pronunciation through structure

Many of my clients tell me that before starting training, they have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pronunciation days, and that feels like no more than luck! Methodical training gives a structure, steps that the speaker knows they can access when they want, which gives a sense of increased control. They are no longer just hoping that pronunciation will go well, they have the practical tools to make sure it does!

Who is accent reduction for?

Accent reduction is not for everyone, and I feel strongly that pronunciation ‘standards’ should never be imposed on anyone. However, for individuals who are genuinely motivated to explore more choice in their pronunciation, whether to improve clarity or aim for a native accent, the training can prove enriching, confidence boosting and even life changing.

If you are a non-native English speaker with an interest in pronunciation training, check out my one-to-one live Zoom training and online self-study programmes. I help professionals of all language backgrounds explore more choice in their English pronunciation in the way that best suits the individual.

More questions? Contact me at sonya@vocalchoice.co.uk