How Speakers Can Reduce Their Accent

Speakers who understand English can reduce their accent
Speakers who understand English can reduce their accent Image Credit: Michael Vance

When we give a speech, we want our audience to hear us, understand us, and then take action based on what we have shared with them. However, if the language that we speak is not the same language that our audience speaks, this can become difficult to do. Many of the audiences that we’ll be addressing speak English and so being able to speak English is an important skill for a speaker to have. If we speak English with an accent, it may be difficult for our audience to understand us. The good news is that there are things that we can do that can help us to minimize the impact of our accent.

The Challenge Of Speaking With An Accent

The English language is a magnificent communication tool. English has successfully spread its lexicon around the globe for more than 500 years. Throughout the world, it is English words that are commonly heard and seen: hamburger, TV, blue jeans, OK, airport, stop, golf, tennis, no problem, and more. These so-called English-isms, and hundreds more like them, have successfully infiltrated the vocabularies of many world’s languages. Indeed, over time English has been the lingua franca of the worlds of entertainment, business, and international affairs since the start of the British Empire. The Economist magazine reports that, today, two-thirds of all scientific papers are published in English. Nearly half of all of the business deals done in Europe are conducted in English.

Since communication skills, particularly speaking skills, are essential to success in speaking, making yourself understood in English is imperative for those who want to express their thoughts to an English speaking audience. But doing this can pose a problem for the international, or “English as a Foreign Language (EFL),” speaker of English, since speaking skills are the most difficult of all language skills to master. Spoken international business English remains a great problem for professionals who are EFL speakers. Foreign accent interference is the number one challenge restricting the open exchange of solutions to problems. Some of the world’s great ideas are not being fully or clearly articulated simply because many EFL speakers feel inadequate, intimidated or inconsequential speaking up at meetings because of their heavy foreign accents.

Don’t Let An Accent Hold You Back

By learning, understanding and using the basic vocal features commonly known as intonation, rhythm and stress, EFL speakers can learn to successfully convey meaning and be clearly heard and understood by their audience in the process. What we need to understand is that our accent is not a problem. Audiences love accents of all kinds as long as the speaker is speaking in accordance with the “sounds of English,” or what is called the “pitch” and “rhythms” of English. As long as the sounds are harmonious to their English-speaking ear, native speakers can easily understand foreign accents. The problem for most EFL speakers is not in the fact that they have accents; rather, it’s simply that they have not yet trained their ear to hear the basic sound patterns of English. What they are missing is the ability to mimic the rise and fall of the voice, the uses of stress and de-stress, and the pitch variations used in every oral expression.

Subsequently, these speakers are not yet speaking in harmony with the intonation and cadence patterns of the language. Most often, the problem lies in the fact that they are attempting to apply the sound patterns of their mother tongue to their spoken English. Once EFL speakers hear and grasp the melodies of English, they can start to sing along with the vast repertoire of its enormous songbook. Typically, learners of EFL are taught the structure, the lexicon, the functions of grammar and the parts of English speech. When learning to actually speak English, it’s best to attempt to temporarily put aside everything already learned from textbooks. Why is this? Because in the classroom we learn new languages word by word, but outside the classroom it turns out that we do not speak word by word. Rather, we tend to speak in very melodic sound units, especially in English. You have to train your ear to hear the way in which native speakers speak. Learn to hear the words within the melody of the sound units, rather than as individual words as they would appear written on the page.

The sound units of Standard North American English are steeped in the rhythm patterns of American jazz which is the indigenous music of the United States. As you train your ear, you begin to hear the many sounds of North American English that are so often contracted and staccato: “going to” becomes “gonna, “should have” becomes “should’ve,”” “they will” becomes “they’ll.” Other sounds glide together: for example “smooth as silk” sounds like “smoooooth asilk.” As you begin to speak you’ll begin to focus on the sounds of what is being said. Once you begin to speak in harmony with these sounds, even though your mother tongue is still evident, it will be easy to hear and understand you because you are in sync with the resonances of the language. The North American English is heavily “stress-” or “beat-driven.” Its articulation and stress patterns are strongly influenced by the person doing the speaking’s emotions and intended meaning. Stress, tone of voice, rhythm and pauses. Understand that these are the musical elements of speaking English well.

What All Of This Means For You

Even if your English grammar is perfect, and you can correctly pronounce all of the individual vowel and consonant sounds of English, your foreign accent interference will continue to block the expression of your ideas, concepts and speeches until you master the stress, rhythm and intonation patterns of spoken English. The good news is that once you train your ear, you’re well on your way. You need to begin to listen to how things are being said. You should explore. You should be curious. Take the time to get out of the box. The only way to beat foreign accent interference is for you to practice, practice and practice speaking “like a native speaker.” Give this a try and you’ll be amazed at how great you start to sound.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you need tow work with someone to help you reduce your accent?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

What is currently your favorite song? We all like to listen to music and every once in a while there will be a song that comes along that will stick in our mind. We just can’t seem to shake it – it’s always there, playing in the background. As speakers I think that we’d all like it if we could use the importance of public speaking to allow our next audience to have the same experience when they listened to us speak. We’d like our message to get stuck in their head and keep on playing. In order to make this happen, perhaps we need to find a way to turn your next speech into more of a musical experience for your audience.