I often get approached by prospective clients who tell me they want to reduce their accent, and I nearly always dissuade them from the idea. Once we start to analyse the issue, it usually becomes clear that what they are talking about is actually improved fluency – the ability to communicate more fluently, which of course requires clear pronunciation and good listening skills. This is not the same as accent reduction, which means modifying the way we speak for a particular purpose (to disguise our origins, or for work in the media industry, for example).
Accent reduction is quite hard work, and requires a lot of dedication – the student has to have a good ear for language and pronunciation, needs to become aware of what sounds need changing, and then has to work to make those changes. It is also usually not something we need to worry about – your accent is part of you, and makes you unique.
Now, if you are having difficulty making yourself understood, then you certainly may need to improve your pronunciation. This is not the same as accent reduction. If I keep saying (using a well-known social media platform as an example), Linkeh Djin, when most people are saying something like lintin, it means I do not understand some English pronunciation rules, and I could be misunderstood. Similarly, if I pronounce the word pie as pee, my lack of knowledge of pronunciation rules could confuse the listener. In these cases, I need to review my pronunciation, not my accent.
There are, however, a few areas where we could be said to be blurring the line between basic pronunciation and accent. One of these concerns the pronunciation of the ‘th’ sound. If I pronounce this as ‘v’ or ‘f’ (wiv for ‘with’, or fink for ‘think’, for example), it may not interfere with communication, but it could well give judgemental people a negative perception of me. In this case, it would be good to resolve the issue – and it could justifiably be called accent reduction.
I will be looking at the thorny problem of the ‘th’ sound in a future post (so look out for this!) but in the meantime, if you are thinking about accent reduction, start by making sure your understand both the problem you feel you have, and your ultimate goal. Then by all means come and talk to us, to see if we can help.