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“I don’t want to talk to you because you have [an] accent.”
This would likely rank as one of the top most hurtful statements a second language learner could hear. Unfortunately, for one of my clients, this was something she heard first hand. Now, if this comment came from a colleague, a social interaction, or quite frankly, from the lips of ANY adult, we would all be appalled.
But this statement came from a child. My client’s occupation involved working with children and their families on a regular basis, and although the adults in her life were extremely supportive, out of the mouth of babes came the undeniable truth.
Elle’s accent was affecting her ability to be understood, and it was frustrating the children she was working with as well as herself. No adult would have said the awful truth, but the kids often did.
Let’s meet Elle
Note: Demographic information has been changed to protect the client’s identification.
Elle: Female, first language: Mandarin
Elle is a professional, who works in early childhood education. She grew up in China, speaking Mandarin for most of her life, and more recently, moved to Canada to live and work. Elle has been speaking English for more than 4 years.
When I met Elle, she was extremely frustrated by how frequently she was asked to repeat herself. She was embarrassed on a regular basis, speaking with native English speakers. Elle reported that “people will keep asking “pardon?”, “pardon me?”, “say that again?”, ”what’s that?”. Yeah, it’s very embarrassing and frustrating”.
Elle felt excluded by others because of her accent. She explained how her clients, who many happen to be children, were the worst critics, with one child actually saying “Oh I don’t want to talk to you because you have [an] accent.” This was an extremely difficult thing to hear.
Elle was very aware of her problem. She explained, “I cannot pronounce the words correctly. I can read the BBC or CNN news, I know the words, however, I can [only] pronounce some of them.” She wanted a change and NOW.
There were many reasons Elle completed the PROactive Accent Modification Program. Here are a few of her top concerns she was hoping to improve.
- She had difficulty speaking in complete, well-organized sentences
- People complained that she talked too softly
- She felt overly tense while talking
- She had difficulty with fluency: repeating sounds, words, parts of words, or phrases regularly
- She had difficulty with mispronouncing or omitting sounds while speaking
- A lack of confidence when speaking
- Difficulty with presentations and public speaking required for her occupation
Elle especially expressed frustration with her confidence when speaking. She explained that she felt a “kind of psychology obstruction” when she was speaking, and that she lacked the confidence when talking to other people because of her accent. These were all secondary effects of not being understood on a regular basis.
Elle was aware of a few of her sound errors and areas of weakness, but her awareness, along with most of the clients who receive our Accent Modification Instruction program, only hit the tip of the iceberg.
Elle was aware of her issues with R and L as well as some vowels, but not of the many other consonants, vowels, blends, stress patterns, phrasing/linking issues that contributed to her issues with her American English accent.
Elle explained that she learned English in China, and confirmed that the teachers that taught her were not native English speakers who also had an accent of their own. This is an important factor to be aware of, as you will read later, this had a profound impact on Elle’s pronunciation, and proved to be a point of frustration for her.
In her own words: Elle’s description of her issues due to her accent
“I work with kids with families. And sometimes I need uh, I need to talk something. And uh, then I, people will keep asking “pardon?”, “pardon me?”, “say that again?”, ”what’s that?”. Yeah, it’s very frus, uh, yeah embarrassing and frustrating.
And uh and uh also um know that the Canadian people the most of the native speakers are very nice they will tell English is fine, “I can understand you”. Only the kids will tell you the truth. Like, I work with um uh a kinder group or the school age group they will tell you.
“Oh I don’t want to talk to you because you have accent”. Or they will try to correct you correct you pronunciation like “my name is James not Jems”, and “my name is Colton not Corton”. Yeah this bother me a lot and sometimes I don’t understand what the kids are talking about.
It happens sometimes the kids say “oh forget about it, never mind, she doesn’t understand us”. Oh yeah it’s very embarrassing. If I want to stay in Canada and uh continue my job I have to pass the IELTS test. Um the IELTS test contains four modules, speaking, listening, reading and writing.
My reading is not bad, uh however my speaking and writing are not so good. Especial speaking. Uh sometimes uh I sit in the classroom and talk to the examiner and uh I can I or could see her or his face yeah that’s uh mm makes me feel oh my English, my speaking English, oh, my English speaking is so horrible. Yeah, um, yeah I need to improve my speaking skills. Um, okay, thank you.
Elle’s goals were clear; she wanted to be able to speak confidently with people. She wanted to be understood the FIRST time she spoke, and she wanted to feel included when others were speaking, not left out because her accent got in the way.
The PROactive Accent Modification program provides an expectation based on 20 years of evidence-based research that American English pronunciation will improve by at least 50-80%. That’s what I expected for Elle!
What we did:
We set up a free consultation: This is where Elle and I videoconferenced together and discussed her needs, main concerns, and expectations. We discussed the program format, home practice, support provided and plan.
Assessment: Elle was sent a link where she simply spoke words, sentences, reading, and a conversation task, which took around 5 minutes.
An intensive and thorough IPA transcription was completed, which is generally a 2-3 hour process for the instructor that analyzes speech sounds, stress patterns, intonation, phrasing/linking, rate, and pitch. The speech samples are analyzed to look for differences that exist from the American English accent.
Once the assessment was completed, Elle was sent the final 4 page report of her analysis results, and sent a link to book her 13 sessions.
Instruction sessions: Each week we met, working on up to 3 goals per session using direct feedback of pronunciation, direction for exact tongue, lip and jaw placement using my knowledge of the anatomical functions of the oral cavity.
For example, Elle was directed to place her tongue blade lower, to a more neutral position to produce the “uh” sound in the word “the”, versus her previously higher tongue position “eee” as in “thee”.
Instruction for how to KNOW HOW to determine when her productions are accurate were provided, which is essential to improvement. This is often neglected in other programs. Home practice materials directly relating to the area of instruction were provided, with audio files.
Elle provided specific words that were of particular interest to her occupation and life, which we worked on in our sessions. Elle was encouraged to message me throughout the week as needed with questions, and feedback as desired.
Elle was astonished that she was pronouncing the simple little words inaccurately. Sounds that she had no idea were an issue for her. She had previously thought it was the longer, more difficult words that she had to work on. This was a big eye opener for Elle!
Elle’s previous English instructors, who were not native English speakers and also had an accent, actually taught her incorrectly. Elle was truly shocked and frustrated to hear that her teacher’s direction to “smile with wide lips for the “I’s” in English” was incorrect. This resulted in words like “big” to be pronounced as “beeg”.
A new recording was submitted at the final session, and a post-analysis report was sent to Elle to show her the progress she made. A certificate of completion was also provided for her records.
So what happened?
Overall, Elle showed an improvement in her American English pronunciation by the end of the 13 Week Program of a whopping 72%!
Elle had 111 word errors before the accent modification program and only 19 after the program, indicating that she has significantly improved her ability to produce American English sounds.
Elle had 172 errors in reading tasks before the accent modification program and only 60 after the program.
Most importantly, Elle’s improved ability to use her new American English pronunciation in conversation, and her confidence in using her new speech patterns has improved tremendously. But don’t take our word for it, let’s hear what Elle had to say about the program.
Results in Elle’s words:
“Hello everyone! My name is [Elle]. I just finished the accent modification class with Miss Rebecca. I have learned a lot! Thank you so much Miss Rebecca. So, today I would like to talk about this lesson and why it is important for English language learners.
You know, when we learn a new language, we need practice. Practice makes perfect, right? However, we need to know HOW to practice. I mean the correct pronunciation. For example, before the class I didn’t know the “TH” sound, when you pronounce this sound, you need to bite your tongue.
So it is “thank you”, not “sank you”, it is “I think” not “I sink”. With Miss Rebecca’s help I figure out the mistakes I made in the past. Right now, when I speak English with others I feel more confident. I don’t get so many “pardon me?”, “excuse me?”, “say that again?” these kinds of words like I used to do.
I think this class is great. I loved it! It is very important for those who want to improve their language skills. So, once again, thank you for everything Miss Rebecca!”
It’s your turn!
If you are struggling with similar issues relating to your accent, book your free consultation now. Don’t wait another year to invest in yourself and get the advantage that could help spearhead your career, gain promotions, land the job you’ve always wanted, and gain the confidence to speak to anyone in any situation.
In a competitive job market, you can’t afford NOT to invest in your communication skills. Get the speech you WANT with the support and knowledgeable instruction you NEED.
Let’s get started today!