Accent Modification

The scope of this page is limited to accent modification services provided to adults. The main focus of this content is related to national origin accents.

Definitions

Accent modification is an elective service sought by individuals who want to change or modify their speech patterns. Accents are variations in the execution of speech characterized by differences in phonological and/or prosodic features that are perceived as different from any native, standard, regional, or dialectal form of speech (Valles, 2015). Accents are marked by variations in speech-sound production, prosody, rate, and fluency (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, & Goodwin, 1996). These linguistic variations may affect intelligibility; however, one can have a noticeable accent and still be clearly intelligible.

Regional accents are common among individuals from different geographic areas—for example, individuals from New York often sound different than individuals from South Carolina. Although this type of accent is not the main focus of this page, some assessment and pronunciation strategies may be applicable to this population. National origin accents, on the other hand, are sometimes heard in non-native individuals who learn English as a second language (L2) as adults. These foreign accents occur because new language learners impose the phonology/sound system of their first language (L1) when speaking a new language. Groups of learners from the same L1 background will, therefore, have the same accent because they share an L1 phonology.

Accents, whether they are regional or foreign, are a natural part of spoken language. It is important to recognize that no accent is "better" than another. It should also be stressed that accents are NOT a communication disorder.

An individual typically seeks accent modification services because others have difficulty understanding what that person is communicating. Although research in this area is still quite limited, it is conducted by a variety of disciplines. Researchers from the English as a Second Language (ESL) field describe three broad dimensions of an accent that contribute to the effectiveness of a communicative exchange (Derwing & Munro, 2009): accentedness, comprehensibility, and intelligibility.

  • Accentedness is the perceived degree of an accent by a listener and refers to the perceived differences in comparison to the speech patterns of the listener's community.
  • Comprehensibility refers to the ease with which a listener understands the message and is based on the amount of time or the level of effort that it takes the listener to process an utterance (Derwing & Munro, 2009).
  • Intelligibility is "the extent to which a listener actually understands an utterance or message" (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996, p. 32).

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