Sunday, May 6, 2007

Accent Reduction for ESL Speakers

Who doesn’t have an accent? Do Americans have accents? What is an American accent? Who has an American accent? People from Minnesota? New York? Georgia? California? The San Fernando Valley?

Natives from each of these places have accents. Most Americans can generally discern where a speaker with one of these accents if from. We even make fun of some American accents. Being a California native, of course I think Californians don’t have accents at all!

Many ESL speakers try to reduce the accents they have from their first languages. In the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) we use the term “accent reduction” frequently. Many of the students I’ve had have come to me to work on their accents.

What if ESL teachers were to take the approach of “accent imitation” rather than “accent reduction?” What if the focus was on teaching students how to imitate American accents, rather than trying to get rid of the ESL speaker’s accent? I wonder what the effects, if any, would be on the psyche of ESL learners. Would it help them to learn faster? I don’t know. Just wondering.



Anonymous said...

I certainly understand your concern, however language acquisition is extremely complicated. A speaker cannot imitate another speaker unless he/she is aware of the mechanics that go into producing sound. In order to do that you must work on your own sound(accent). To reduce the accent is not a suggestion to belittle or single out a difference in speaking, but instead a practice in pronouncing distorted sounds correctly. So, in reality you are reducing the accent. But your concerns about the semantics is valid. So, if students can be made to understand that the accent is reduced and why, then the term accent reduction will not be so intimidating.


Tiane said...

Really interesting thoughts. In my mixed-level classes I draw attention to my pronunciation and try to get them to mimic me, but I often give alternate pronunciations. This seems to be comfortable for everyone.

I think that if I were to work one-on-one with a more advanced student and find that they're anxious about their accent, it may well be helpful to approach accent reduction in terms of learning to imitate 'American' accents. You can even show a clip of an actor or youtube-ist switching between accents and encourage the student to consciously choose to 'put on' an 'American' accent while not trying to banish their natural speech patterns.