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Let me tell you a story…
Some years ago I was living in Tokyo running a private practice (riding the trains all day to clients’ houses… ouch!) and I got a call from the embassy of an African country (I will refrain from naming the country out of respect for the privacy of the client). I was asked to come to the embassy to meet with the ambassador concerning accent reduction.
When I arrived she was very excited and told me that she wanted to improve her accent. She felt that as a stateswoman she would be more effective if she could carry her words with more authority and gravity.
When I asked her who her inspirational voice was, she told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to speak like Barack Obama.
The Standard American Accent
When I was in university and when I first started doing accent modification work I was always taught about the SAE or Standard American Accent as if it were the accent all people wanted to emulate.
And perhaps it was back then.
But now, the voices many of my clients experience and want to emulate are different. We live in a beautiful time of communication when we can hear voices of all types in our professional and personal lives. It is no longer new to work at a job with people of every background, or to have a banker, lawyer or, yes, a Speech-Language Pathologist with an accented lilt to their voice.
It should really come as no surprise that someone might want to sound like James Earl Jones, or Julia Roberts, or (and I had a HUGE crush on her in the 1990s) Rosie Perez. The American voice is any number of voices and sounds like any number of places.
Is It Accent Reduction?
Over the years I’ve come to believe that students should have access to the voice with which THEY want to speak. If a client comes to me and wants to sound like Oprah Winfrey, and I have the resources and training to provide her with that voice, then I am fully behind her in her quest to learn the language of her heart.
But is this accent reduction?
Currently, for some clients, I prefer the term ‘Accent Acquisition’.
I think this more clearly explains the changes these clients are seeking. They don’t want to reduce the amount of the accent they have, they want to develop an entirely new accent! Their search for services is based in finding their best voice, not necessarily their most SAE voice. We as Speech-Language Pathologists know the ways that prosody and articulation work hand in hand to create the working accent of the people we serve. Many of us have, or had, online speech therapy jobs and in our speech therapy telepractice we worked with clients from all over the USA and beyond, correcting articulation and expressive language errors into the home accent of the clients that we served. We are no strangers to Bahston’s Cah Pahks, or Noo Yawk’s “Yoo tawwhkin’ ta may?”, or even for some of us that beautiful Georgia drawl.
Accent acquisition… I think it’s a fair assessment of what some of my clients really want.
But other clients really do want to reduce the accent they have. I am one of those clients in my target second language. I don’t want a Hà Nội accent or a Hồ Chí Minh city accent, I just want to be clearer and sound more fluent. So yes, accent reduction can also be the right term. I think it depends on the client and their goals.
Is Every Accent Right?
What about clients who are going to a specific region in the USA for work and want to sound less out of place?
I had a client from India who was moving to Louisiana for work and wanted to fit in better. Was teaching him to speak in SAE really the top option, would it help him fit in with the people he would interact with?
He didn’t care which English accent was ‘standard’, he cared which one would help him when he went to his children’s school or when other recruiters would contact him for jobs. Would I serve him best by deciding what the American accent sounded like, or would I be a better instructor if I listened to his needs and helped him to fit into the place where he was settling?
I think the answer is obvious, and will vary from individual to individual and what they find important to them. A change to an accent is a personal choice and the modification Speech-Language Pathologists provide should feel like home to the client.
Accent Connection Welcomes YOUR Voice!
At Accent Connection we’re committed to providing a platform for Speech Therapists to create and grow their speech therapy private practice and connect with clients free from the constraints of our opinions about the ‘right’ way to help a client.
Whether you agree with me in this blog or not, you are welcome to sign on here. I often tell people “I am not saying I am right, I am just saying what I believe.” Perhaps I’m wrong about all of this or perhaps I’m right, either way, you are welcome here.
We do not tell people that if they have a smooth Southern drawl they cannot connect with clients here, or that the warm sound of African American English (AAE) would be a deal breaker, or that the excited sounding Puerto Rican accent would bar you from entry.
But we also do not tell you that if your focus is purely on helping clients to use the Standard American Accent you are not welcome here. We respect you and your choices.
We require that you are a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist or Speech Therapist, beyond that we trust your professional expertise and your clients’ choices.
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