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Is Accent Reduction Controversial?

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs, more commonly known as “speech therapist”) assist people with language, speech, and voice disorders. Even though SLPs have also helped people modify their accents for a number of years, the topic of “accent reduction” is a sometimes sensitive and controversial issue.

Accent reduction courses have helped countless numbers of people from different backgrounds from all over the word.  These people make up large and diverse groups such as IT telephone supports personal, professional athletes, college professors, and medical professionals.  Even though these people often display an impressive command of the language and “accent barrier” can still hold them back from communicating the way they’d like to.  Accent reduction courses, also known as American Accent Training, can create a new level of communication.

If it’s so helpful…why the controversy?

Simple answer – misconceptions:

1. “Accent Modification’ vs. “Accent Elimination”

From a linguistic, speech/language perspective, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to “eliminate” an accent or be “accent free.” These phrases actually don’t make any sense, everyone has an “accent.”  For example, people born in the mid-west have a “Mid-West Accent” or people from the south have a “southern accent” or southern draw.  These people don’t have a foreign accent – they have a regional accent.  Since everyone has an accent, it’s simply impossible to have “no accent.”  People who use terms like “accent free” or “eliminate accents” are ironically, eliminating their credibility and demonstrating their lack of linguistic knowledge.

People trained in accent reduction, like an accent reduction specialist, can help people change the way they speak to sound more “American” more like a native speaker. For example, if a person is from India they may speak with an “Indian accent” or more accurately a “Hindi” or “Urdu” accent.  If their native language, i.e. Hindi, is influencing the way they speak English so much they suffer from break downs in communication, they might benefit from accent training.  The goal in changing certain parts of the “Hindi” accent with “Standard American” parts isn’t for that to person lose their identity as an Indian – rather it’s to improve communication and be better understood by English speakers.

2. Having an accent is “bad”

Speaking with an accent isn’t good or bad.  It’s worth being repeated: everyone has an accent.  Socially a person with a particularity severe accent might find communicating difficult.  They may be experience a certain amount of anxiety, self-consciousness, and frustration.  Think about it – public speaking is the number one fear people have, how do you think a person with a strong accent feels speaking every day!?

3.  Accent Modification will make a person lose his/her cultural identity.

Think about it.  If you met a person from Europe that told you they were, say, 100% Italian.  They drank espresso like an Italian, drove an Italian car, lived an Italian lifestyle, thought Italian etc. and then they told you they also spoke unaccented German.  Would you think they were less Italian?  Or would you simply believe that they are 1) educated 2) more worldly 3) talented. The same applies for people interested in speaking English they best they can.

4.  Accent modification companies are some type of scam.

It’s true that there are many scams out there.  “Lose your accent” products come with high expectations and even higher price tags.  It’s simply not fair.  That’s why at the Accent Training Center we strive to provide the best services at competitive prices.  All of our accent specialists have received the international standard Compton P-ESL training.  Such credentials help ensure that all of our clients receive the very best care and attention.

So, the next time you have trouble understanding someone who has a very strong accent, keep in mind that the person is very likely FULLY aware, and he/she may be as frustrated with their speech as you may be in trying to understand them.