Accent reduction? Pronunciation? What do I teach?

‘Let’s not confuse accent with pronunciation! Learn the difference!’

In my reading and research, I see comments like the above A LOT. I understand why. Although ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’ are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, most people would say they are not the same thing. Let’s dig a little more deeply with some (Oxford) dictionary definitions:

pronunciation – the way in which a word is pronounced.’(I would add: to make it easily understood by a general audience)

accent – the way words are pronounced (so far, so similar), associated with a particular country, area or social class.

Okay. The two terms overlap but are not synonymous. Both words deal with ‘how words are pronounced’, but ‘accent’ has the additional meaning of being associated with a particular region or group of people.

After years of thought and teaching all things related to voice, accent and pronunciation, I define an accent as a collection of pronunciation habits that carries some kind of regional or social association. This seems to line up pretty well with the dictionary definitions.

Dictionary entry of the word ACCENT
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Pronunciation vs accent reduction

Now we’ve got the difference, what does this mean in practice? Do I teach accent or pronunciation?

Well…both, of course. Training might lean towards one or another, depending on my clients and their individual aims.

If someone wants help to improve the clarity of their speech, it’s safe to say we’re working on pronunciation.

It someone’s aim is to reproduce a specific accent, perhaps because they are an actor or because they have a personal objective to explore a new accent, then, of course, we’re working on accent.

I don’t love the term accent reduction, because we aren’t ‘reducing’ anything; we’re gaining something. If we’re dealing with accent, I just call it accent training

The inevitability of accent

Pronunciation training does not exist in a vacuum; there is inevitable accent influence in the training context. Pronunciation training in the UK of course uses British sounds, because a target pronunciation model is necessary (see my last post on this), and there is no such thing as a definable, globally neutral accent. The sounds I teach have a particularly British flavour, unless agreed otherwise with my client at the start of the training.

I think the pronunciation vs accent sticking point comes when describing the training. It’s easy to use terms like ‘improve your accent’ or ‘reduce your accent’, when actually we mean ‘work to get clearer speech’. The issue is the implication that some accents are not acceptable and in need of improvement. This. Is. Definitely. Not. The. Case! We can be clear in any accent, but it is important to be clear. Certain stronger accent features may stand in the way of clarity, depending on the audience, and we approach this on a case-by-case basis – the beauty of one-to-one training!

Pronunciation choices…

Working on pronunciation might once have meant acquiring a new accent, and maybe still means that to some. Today, I believe that it’s more about exploring new choices that suit my client’s individual goals and circumstances. That’s why I called myself Vocal Choice 😊

To find out how I can help you expand your vocal choices, get in touch.

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