What I Learned From My Pronunciation Students

What Ive Learned From Pronunciation StudentsIt’s been 5 years since I started on this journey of teaching the American English accent to foreign language speakers.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

I am qualified. At first I was nervous if I knew enough to teach others to speak with an American accent. But I was willing, and quickly learned what I could about accent reduction. The surest way to learn something is to try and teach it to others! This is true. As soon as I could explain the rules and patterns of English, I became qualified.

Students need “pause” time. My initial nervousness caused me to fill up the spaces of quiet with words! This was bad for my students because they were using the spaces of quiet to

  1. translate what I said into their first language
  2. think of an answer, and
  3. translate their answer into English.

Read my earlier post on how valuable the quiet pause is for students learning another language.

Don’t expect to get through the whole lesson. It always seems to happen that students have questions, new topics come up and things need to be reviewed or repeated. Take your lesson plan in, but expect to only cover part of it. Be flexible about how much you can actually teach in a year.

Language students are the most appreciative. After 25 years teaching speech and language students, I find that adult ESL and Pronunciation students will be able to express how very much they appreciate your time and effort in the classroom. Sort of makes up for when the little ones are so unhappy to come to speech therapy, and the parents are miserable toward you!

I notice all the ways Americans butcher the English language. I can never again sit back and hear speakers of English say “prolly” for “probably”. “axe” for “ask” and “nucular’ for “nuclear”. Yes, I know language is a living thing, and words change all the time. I notice it all the time, but good manners prevent me from saying anything. I just keep moving.

My students are the best and I love them dearly!

Why an Accent Reduction Course?

pronunciation courseClient – “Why do I need a course in accent reduction?  Can’t I just learn the ideas in a couple sessions?”

Me – I’m glad you asked.  We usually want our accent reduction clients to take a beginning course of 10 – 15 sessions.  Although some clients benefit from a few lessons, most should take a course of sessions to learn new techniques, have time to practice and receive feedback from their instructor.

You learned your first language when you were 5 – 7 years old.  During that time you practiced and played with the sounds, linking and intonation.  You probably sang songs, recited rhymes and poems, talked to and listened to many different folks, all speaking your first language.  You received feedback from others (adults and children alike) if you were making the sounds and melodies correctly. You had time to practice and perfect your first language, the sounds, linking and intonation.

Years later you learned English. You learned the vocabulary and grammar so you could speak in sentences.  But your kept your sounds, linking and intonation patterns from your first language, and simply laid those on top of English.  So that is why you are speaking with an accent! The more similar your first language is to English, the less noticeable your accent will be.  The less similar your first language is to English, the more noticeable your accent will be and this will make it harder for others to understand you.

It may help you to know EVERYONE speaks with an accent. No matter what language you use….

no matter where you live on the planet….

you speak in the accent of your first, and home, language.

If you want to speak English well, you need to imitate English sounds, linking and intonation, and this takes time, practice and feedback! Here are some activities to support learning the new accent:

  1. Take a course for 10 – 15 lessons from a specially-trained teacher, like a speech-language pathologist.
  2. Record your lessons and play back for further practice.
  3. Befriend an American who is willing to talk with you and let you know about your mistakes.
  4. Watch TV, and listen to radio in English.
  5. Mimic the accent you want to learn.  Mimicry helps your brain to be comfortable in the new accent.

So why can’t this you learn a new accent in a couple lessons?  Because you need time, practice and feedback.