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Many people who have learned English as their second language ask if they should eliminate or reduce their accent. The important questions to consider are: How intelligible are you? How proficient do you want to become in pronouncing Standard American English?
Actors with regional or foreign accents come to us to eliminate their accents so they can play roles that require standard American English. But they are concerned that they will lose their accent altogether. We tell them that they’re not really eliminating their accent; they’re just learning a new dialect, to be used as needed. Other clients such as teachers, lawyers, business executives, doctors, and nurses may just want to reduce their accent to be better understood at their jobs.
Whether your goal is elimination or reduction, the most common pitfalls that interfere with intelligibility are:
- substituting /f, t, d, s, or z/ for the voiced and voiceless /th/sounds
- mispronouncing the /r and l/ sounds
- omitting final consonant sounds
- not pronouncing the 18 American English vowels correctly
- speaking English using the intonation and stress patterns of your native language
Knowing what your own goals are will determine whether you want to eliminate or reduce your accent.
Here are some suggestions of things you can do on your own to become better understood.
- Speak slower until your speech has improved
- Listen to newscasters and try to imitate them.
- Listen to the rhythm of American English
- Sing American songs – This will help with the flow of the language
- Use dictionary.com to hear the pronunciation of words you have trouble with
Your voice reflects who you are. Are you happy with what your voice says about you? Do you feel like you need a slight change to your voice?
The following are some of the voice clients we’ve met over the years.
- Here’s Miss Mouse – Her voice is low in volume. Nobody ever seems to hear what she has to say. She fades into the background.
- Meet Gravel Gertie or Gus – This person speaks in the lowest voice he can find. It’s coming from the back of his throat somewhere and goes nowhere. It sounds like gravel!
- The Wicked Witch – Her neck muscles are very tight. She always sounds tense.
- Nasal Nanny – This person can sound like he has a perpetual sinus infection. Regional accents like NY or Midwest twang can be very nasal.
- Little Kid – This voice is not age appropriate. Pitched way too high. Both male and female voices sound like a little girl.
- Johnny one note – This person speaks in a monotone. Pitch and volume remain the same. He’s sure to put you to sleep.
If you recognize yourself in any of these voices and want to make a change, know that it is possible. Our Elocution Handbook: Your Voice download provides you with techniques and exercises that will help you produce your best voice. Or if you prefer you can come to our studio. We offer a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs and set up a program designed just for you. We do this in our office or on Skype.
We noticed that most accent reduction programs do not stress stress. Having the proper intonation and stress patterns is as important to being understood as learning how to pronounce the sounds of American English. Many foreign speakers learn English but speak it with the intonation and stress patterns of their native language.
The rhythm of a language is its music. It’s a timing pattern among syllables. English uses an alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables. A syllable can be stressed by stretching the vowel, by saying it louder and using a higher pitch. Try this word TAble. Can you hear how the first syllable (TA) is higher in pitch, louder and longer than the second syllable (ble)?
If you’re not sure what syllable to stress, dictionaries are always a good source. dictionary.com is a great site to go to because they will actually pronounce the word for you.
It’s not only important to stress the right syllable in words but you also have to stress the right word in a sentence to get your intended message across. Generally speaking we stress content words such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives in sentences because they carry the most information.
If intonation and stress is stressing you out, check out our program “I’ve Got Rhythm” on the Products page.
For those of you who do a lot of speaking all day, teachers, salespeople, actors, medical personnel etc., you need to have a good strong speaking voice. It’s important to be able to keep your listeners’ attention. This means that you need to have good vocal variety, a voice that’s pleasing to listen to, and enough breath support so you can speak to them all day without your voice becoming tired, and strained.
In the “Elocution Handbook – Your Voice” we cover:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Voice placement
- Vocal Hygiene
- Vocal Variety
To see a sample go to the products page. Keep in mind this program is not therapy but designed to help you achieve your best voice. If you feel you have a voice disorder, please see a doctor.
If you didn’t have a speech sound corrected when you were a child, you’re never too old to correct an articulation problem. It is easier to correct a sound when you’re young. But often a child is not motivated and doesn’t see the importance of correcting the error. While the habit is more ingrained as a teenager or an adult, the motivation is there. The sounds that are the usual suspects are /s, r, l/.
/s/ problems may include:
- /s/ made with the tongue too far forward, known as a frontal lisp
- air escaping over the sides of the tongue which is called a lateral lisp
- the ‘hissy’ /s/ is too whistly and for those people who work with microphones this distortion becomes amplified.
/r/ problems may include:
- rounding the lips which sounds like /w/ for /r/
- the tongue isn’t placed in the correct position causing a distortion.
/l/ problems may include:
- rounding the lips which sounds like /w/ for /l/
- lifting the back of the tongue instead of the tongue tip which causes a distortion
- The tongue comes too far forward which produces a weakened sound.
There are many opportunities for children in TV and film. But it’s very important for parents to be aware of the many scam artists all around the country making promises – for a very large fee – that they will get their children auditions or signed by an agent. Read more about it in this L. A. Times article.
During allergy and cold season, I’m sure there are many days when you feel that your throat is scratchy and your post nasal drip is getting the better of you. And yet, you still have to go out there and use your voice. We’d like to share some home remedies that others have shared with us. See if they work for you.
1. Warm water with lemon and honey; the lemon helps to remove phlegm while the honey soothes and coats your throat
2. If you don’t have any water around, mint candies are a great way to keep your throat wet.
Yummy Tip: Try adding fresh mint to your warm water for a delicious mint tea that not only keeps your vocal cords happy, but your taste buds as well .
3. Chicken soup is reputed to heal all ailments, well it does help with colds and is great for your throat.
4. Ginger; fresh ginger can help soothe inflamed mucous membranes of the larynx. Try sucking on candied ginger if available or drink a cup of ginger tea; To prepare the tea, cut a fresh 1- to 2-inch gingerroot into thin slices and place in 1 quart boiling water. Cover the pot and simmer on the lowest heat for 30 minutes. Let cool for 30 more minutes, strain, and drink 1/2 to 1 cup three to five times a day. Sweeten with honey if needed.
5. Garlic is also very good for your throat. If you have a strong stomach and no social events to attend suck on a slice of garlic. Garlic, when sliced or crushed, releases the antimicrobial substance allicin. Allicin kills bacteria, including strep and some viruses.
6. Steam; Bring half a pot of water to boil, remove from stove, and place on a protected surface. Drape a towel over your head, lean forward over the pot, and breathe gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to stick your face too close. Repeat in the evening before bedtime
We came across this interesting website that we’d like to share with you. All you have to do is take the short quiz and see if your accent actually matches up to where you’re from. http://www.lewrockwell.com/spl3/american-accent-quiz.html
Did you know that many companies will reimburse for continuing education classes? Many of our clients who need to speak well for their job get reimbursed for their elocution lessons whether it’s for accent reduction or voice and diction. Businesses realize how important it is for their employees to be able to speak with confidence and clarity. After all they are the ‘voice’ of the company.
Lisps can be very cute on young children. But when does it stop being cute and become a concern? Children should be able to produce the /s/ sound by the age of 71/2 – so that’s the age we usually start to correct it. If your child is an actor, his/her agent will probably suggest it at this time if he hasn’t already.
There are two kinds of lisps. The frontal lisp is the most common. This is when the tongue comes forward between the front teeth and sounds like your child is saying /th/. This type of lisp can often correct itself up until the age of 7 1/2.
The second type of lisp is the lateral lisp. With this lisp the air comes out from the sides of the mouth and often sounds slushy. Think of the cartoon characters Sylvester the cat or Daffy Duck. The lateral lisp rarely corrects on it’s own. When a child has a lateral lisp it often affects other sounds like /sh, ch, j, and z/.
The staff at Elocution Solution has had over 30 years experience successfully correcting articulation problems in both children and adults. We’ve had many adults come to us who haven’t had their /s/ corrected when they were children and it’s never too late.