April 27, 2010 Features

Accent Modification Cited as "Best-Kept Secret"

Patricia Cecil-Reed identified "accent-reduction specialist" (also called "accent modification") as "the number-one best-kept-secret career" with a mean annual salary of $63,740 (U.S. News & World Report, December 2008). Employment requires "a master's degree and licensure in speech-language pathology or ESL training."

ASHA's position paper on social dialects states, "no dialectal variety of English is a disorder or a pathological form of speech or language." However, in our global economy, several professionals, including business executives, university professors, graduate teaching assistants, clergy, technicians, foreign Web site developers, medical staff, and others may wish to learn a standard dialect, and speech-language pathologists are especially qualified to provide this service.

"What American Accent Do You Have?" demonstrates (unscientifically) that we all have a dialect; a short humorous video from Berlitz shows the importance of accent modification.

To hear the phonological and prosodic features of various dialects, visit:

  • George Mason University's Speech Accent Archive provides 1,246 samples of native and non-native speakers of English all reading the same English paragraph.
  • The International Dialects of English Archive by Paul Meier is "a free, online archive of primary source dialect and accent recordings for the performing arts."
  • Audio samples of accent improvement from the Institute of Language and Phonology are short before-and-after sound files of speakers from 11 countries.
  • The late Peter Ladefoged's phonetics course allows listeners to hear "Arthur the Young Rat" in five English accents.
  • Listeners can hear audio examples of all phonemes at the word level for nine English-speaking countries at fonetics.org.

The unique intonation patterns of American English are a problem for virtually all non-native speakers. Working on a speaker's prosody prior to or in conjunction with consonant and vowel drills is often recommended:

The Sounds of Language

Many online resources offer the opportunity to see and hear how American English sounds are produced.

  • The Sounds of Spoken Language (choose American English) animates production of each sound in isolation and in all word positions.
  • FunEasyEnglish visualizes pronouncing English sounds, with practice words for each sound.
  • The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines and pronounces words.
  • Jennifer's Free Language Tutorials include 35 pages of English vocabulary words in print (PDF) and audio (mp3).
  • Eva Easton's "Authentic American Pronunciation" clearly pronounces words with all the sounds of American English, with many practice lessons.
  • My "Vowel Practice" pronounces words and sentences loaded with all American English vowel sounds.
  • LanguageGuide.org teaches vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation of English and other languages through pictures and clear pronunciation.
  • English Pronunciation/Listening includes interactive lesson plans and worksheets focused on problem sounds for second-
    language learners.
  • American Clear Speech Sounds has good illustrations and exercises.

Minimal pairs can focus attention on pronunciation differences:

Advanced practice can employ reading script phrases and sentences along with Internet audio pronunciation:

Judith Maginnis Kuster, MS, CCC-SLP, is a professor in the Department of Speech, Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Contact her at judith.kuster@mnsu.edu. An archive of all of Kuster's columns can be found at www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster4/leader.html. URLs change, however, and there is no guarantee that links from previous columns are still functional.

cite as: Kuster, J. M. (2010, April 27). Accent Modification Cited as "Best-Kept Secret". The ASHA Leader.


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