I’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.
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.
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.