A Day in the Life of an SLP – Accent Modification


Day in the Life of an SLP Accent ModificationI’m headed off to work this morning, where I’ll spend 2 hours in English pronunciation class with adults from 5 different countries and cultures.  It’s every Monday morning and my current clients are Iranian, Chinese (Mandarin), Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese.  Our class is part of an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in our community.  Stand-alone courses like this are often called accent modification, and can be taught to groups or individuals.  The success of the program relies on client participation and teacher feedback.  As a speech language pathologist, I am applying my knowledge of American English to help clients.  The goals are for clients to understand spoken English better, and to speak English in a way that they are understood better by Americans.

ESL Classes

We learn and practice the sounds of English.  But just as important as sounds, we learn linking patterns in phrases and sentences.  We learn reductions (like “going to” is often reduced to “gonna”), because it improves listening comprehension.  We learn about rhythm, stress and intonation, which is particularly hard for students whose first language is monotone.  This photo shows clients and I practicing strong and weak stress patterns in sentences, moving a ball high or low as we speak. Lastly American culture is often a topic in class, as well as techniques to improve communication styles.

It’s the start of a new class and I need to record each client with a brief test.  I will listen to each recording and identify the target goals for that client.  I’ll write it up in a one page summary.  I’ll also take a recording at the end of the year for all the clients, and do another summary page.  This prep takes time, but is worth it to have pre-and post- recordings.  Clients get a listening home practice assignment each week.  They write a short paragraph and read it in class, and I provide feedback.  After class I read their home practice sheets to get a better idea of how each is listening, understanding and writing in English.

ESL classroom

To prepare for class, I’m following a text, choosing the lessons that are most needed for this class (L vs. R, and stress & rhythm),  but I also developed my own materials to teach about things that seems overlooked in pronunciation, (things such as jaw height for vowel sounds, for example). Early on, I had to try a number of texts and materials.  I also did some formal training, but much of my skill was learned “on the job” with clients.  It’s important to take notes on what topics come up for your clients.  I developed a curriculum, but often the need for new skills shows up in a session.  I research or develop materials to add when this is of value to the clients.

I see individuals, in person and by videochat.  Sessions are often held in the evening or early morning, because they are needed to fit around the client’s work.  Each client gets pre- and post- testing for a course, which is generally 15 weeks.  Some clients choose to take a second, or third course.  Each client uses a text with CDs of the American English accent.   I spend time prepping materials specifically chosen for each client. Often I record audio and upload it to Dropbox for clients to hear and practice.

I live in a high tech area that draws a lot of internationals.  I think that is why I’ve been successful at booking accent modification clients.  My clients are often professional men and women, who desire to advance at work, and they find their accent or communication style may be holding them back.  I work with children of professionals who want their child or teen to sound more like an American.  This translates to better education and work prospects for them. I work with housewives, who upon coming to the U.S. realize their English teacher back in Japan or Korea taught them a lot of wrong things!

Speech language pathologists are uniquely qualified to teach accent modification. Your training and experience with speech, language and communication has prepared you to begin today.  If this is an area that interests you, I would encourage you to explore the possibilities.  SLPs are a generous group of people who will share materials, and ideas, and cheer you on in this area!  Many thousands of people worldwide desire to communicate in English.  Therefore competency in speaking and understanding English is greatly sought after now, and it will be in the future.

6 thoughts
  1. Erica says:

    I am so motivated and so happy after reading your blog. I absolutely love to work with bilinguals and multilingual. I have not clients now. I am in the Fort Worth area. Where do I find clients?!

    1. paula says:

      Hi Erica, Finding clients happens most often by word of mouth. Successful clients tell their friends. I got my first clients when working in an ESL program. Thanks, Paula

  2. MCP says:

    Hi there!
    I am a first year graduate student in Speech and I’ve got my first AM client! It’s a bit nerve wrecking,but also exciting. My client’s native language is Mandarin and I’ve collected several speech samples and have analyzed the results. I found that their standout difficulties are in /sh/ —> /shr/, /r/ —> vowelization, and epenthesis (ex. /blossom/ —> /buhlahsum/) I’m still in my trial therapy stage so I’ve got about another week to brainstorm therapy strategies… help! I’m at a loss on where to begins, especially with a highly educated adult. Do you have any recommendations or have any suggested resources?

    1. paula says:

      Hi. Thanks for your comment.
      With Mandarin speakers, I might start with the linking in sentences. If they are like most Mandarin speakers, they have been taught to pronounce each word separately and carefully. Teach how we link our words together. This with address the epenthesis.

      Vowel sounds are another target. Long A is a good goal to work on. In most places in the U.S. we use the diphthong aye-ee. Teach the two parts and that will help.

      R vs. L is a good goal too. Teach the difference and drill minimal pairs. Then use in sentences.

      That’s probably a good start. Thanks for reading! If you’re an SLP, consider joining our FB group, SLPs in Accent Modification.

  3. Sigal says:

    Hi there! Thank you so much for your blog. I’m a WA-based SLP who has been working in a school setting for the past 6 years – primarily with students who are ELL. I love working with this population, and I recently was thinking of diversifying my work (partially to help reduce work stress), and training to offer accent mod to adults who are learning English, as a part time endavour. I wanted to ask you: what do you think of the Compton PESL course? Will it be helpful to take it? Also – what else might be helpful to me if I wanted to embark on this new path? Any trainings that you have found relevant/useful? I don’t know anyone who is working on accent mod, and so any input would be truly great! Thanks in advance :).

    1. paula says:

      Hi Sigal, The pros on the Compton PESL training is their protocols and textbook. The cons are (in my opinion) the audio is strongly accented for New York. Also the practice words and sentences are old-fashioned. Also practically no training is given to the suprasegmentals (stress, intonation, linking, reductions, etc.) You will need additional resources for that. As an SLP you already know almost everything they cover. Please join our Facebook group SLPs in Accent Modification for more support and information. Paula

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