Practice Makes Perfect?

Learning a new accent is physical. In accent reduction, our mouth muscles learn new, previously unfamiliar positions and movements, so we need to devote time to meaningful independent practice between sessions to develop new muscle memory, just like when learning to drive, dance or play a musical instrument.

I can always tell when my clients practise. They come to the next session with the last learning point we covered just a little bit more integrated: one step further along the path of confidently producing and ‘owning’ a vowel, consonant or rhythm aspect. Lack of practice, on the other hand, can make the next session feel almost like starting the learning point at the beginning again.

Accent work is a gradual process of getting to know our own mouth’s physical tendencies and, over time, adding to its circle of possibilities. It is not about eradicating an ‘old accent’, it’s about learning a new choice that is available for us whenever we want.

Years of coaching have taught me that successful practice is much more about quality than quantity. I’ve found that my clients make more noticeable progress in their new accent with 10-15 minutes of mindful practice per day than from a dutiful-but-rushed one-hour practice session the night before the next lesson! By mindful practice, I mean reflective, gently critical and engaged: noticing and adjusting the mouth positions according to personalised feedback given by me in the last session and comparing with the supporting audio and video material.

While I encourage my clients to practise with the material I provide (worksheets, audio and video), there are many other – sometimes more fun – ways we can integrate our new accents into our lives! Schedules are busy, lockdown or no lockdown, so any habit that can slip easily into our existing routine has the best chance of staying. Depending on the individual situation, some of these may become even easier under lockdown…

Tips for integrating your accent practice into daily life:

  1. Talk to yourself 

Working at home alone? Or even in a room alone? Narrate to yourself (or your pet) as you go about your daily activities. Exaggerate, correct yourself and have fun. This is a great low-pressure way to build muscle memory.

  1. Articulation exercises in the bathroom

Yes, including the one where you stick your tongue out. It only takes a minute and only your mirror has to know!

  1. Read aloud (alone or with audience)

Similar to #1 but without having to think about what you say. Start with 30 seconds’ reading aloud of a couple of paragraphs from a book or article, a poem…or your own work emails (great for using the words you’re likely to say most often in real life).

  1. Audio diary

Like #1 but recorded – record yourself talking about your day for 30 seconds. This is particularly useful when you listen to and assess yourself afterwards. 

  1. Video diary

As above – great for checking your position of a particular vowel or consonant (compare it with my demo videos).

  1. Get specific

Every day, pick one vowel or consonant to focus on. Let the others slide for that day and be meticulous about that one. Change to another one the next day.

  1. Zoom challenge

In your next online meeting, make sure you use one or two words which contain your sound of the day (see #6).

  1. Zoom advantage

Studies show that we need to focus a little harder on video calls than in face to face conversations. Turn this into a practice opportunity by articulating more carefully than you would face to face, as if people had to lip-read you.

  1. Take it outdoors

Go for your walk or run with pronunciation audio files in your earphones for company. Find a quiet corner of the park and repeat in peace!

     10.    Mini-habits

Repeat 3 words, read aloud one sentence, speak in your new accent for 10 seconds. You’ll probably then ‘get into it’ and end up practising for longer…

Finally, enjoy: these new sounds belong to you as much as they do to anyone else 😊 Practice can make perfect, but even more importantly and realistically, practice makes better.

If you’re already working with me and have any questions about how you can make the above work for you, send me an email or let’s discuss it in our next session.

If you are not working with me and are thinking of starting accent reduction or voice training, drop me a line at sonya@vocalchoice.co.uk