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Accent Modification – An Overview and Debunking Myths

In Toronto, where Andalusia Speech Therapy has two clinics, there are over 250 ethnicities represented, and just under half of the city's population are immigrants. With so much cultural diversity, you're bound to run into many people with accents, which we think is amazing! An accent shows other people that you speak another language fluently and have multilingual talents.


Sometimes, however, an accent can cause difficulties in being understood or can alter the way others perceive you. We want to be clear that we don't believe an accent is a bad thing at all, but we understand that having clearer English pronunciation can make someone feel more at ease. For that reason, we offer accent modification services through our clinics, and we'd like to break down what you need to know about the process and debunk some myths along the way.

What can I expect from Speech Therapy for my accent?

Your Speech Therapist will have a conversation with you about your history of learning English, have you complete a survey about your experiences with your accent, and will discuss your goals and expectations. For your assessment, the Speech Therapist will start by having you read a list of words, then a paragraph, and then participate in a casual conversation together. Your speech will be recorded so we can analyze it later and compare it to the Canadian English pronunciation.

After this, the Speech Therapist will write a report commenting on your pronunciation of vowels and consonants, intonation patterns (e.g. rising pitch for questions), body language and word choice. The report will be personalized to you and will list goals to begin working on to modify your accent. Each session will typically focus on one goal and you will be provided with personalized homework to practice your skills.


Myth: I can sound like a native speaker

This is unlikely, unless you are an actor and working on accents for work. When you start learning English past the age of 13-15 years old, it is very difficult to completely remove your accent. Our goal is not to make your accent disappear, but rather to improve your intelligibility (how well others understand you),


Myth: I can't alter my accent as an adult

With professional guidance and practice at home, you can definitely change your English accent. Your Speech Therapist will help you look at English under a microscope, so to speak, in order to determine what specific sounds and elements of speech (e.g. rhythm, stress) you can work on to bring you closer to the pronunciation that Canadians are typically most familiar with. We can give you the knowledge and teach you the strategies to make the new sound pattern, but the practice is up to you!

Myth: Modifying my accent will disconnect me from my culture / ethnic background

We want to be clear that we don't think accents are something to be ashamed of – in fact, they should be celebrated. But our goal in Speech Therapy is to help you get your messages across with fewer misunderstandings or needing to repeat yourself.


Accent modification will not cause you to lose your native language or what distinguishes you from everyone else. We're just giving you the tools to be better understood in a setting where Canadian English is most common (this could be your workplace, public transit, restaurants, etc.). For example, we want to avoid situations where you try to say 'beach' and someone might hear 'b****' – yikes!


Code-switching is another tool that allows you to move between dialects depending on who you're around. "Code-switching" is a term that refers to the ability to speak in different dialects or languages depending on the environment or who you're in conversation with. So if you're around people from your culture and want to speak in the accent you are used to, you can switch to that at any point. If you want to switch to a modified Canadian English accent in other contexts, you'll have that freedom.


English has tons of different dialects, and no one's dialect or accent is superior to anyone else's. Our goal is always to help others communicate freely, so if your pronunciation of English is keeping you from achieving that, we're ready to help. Don't hesitate to ask a Speech Language Pathologist if you have any questions or get in contact with us to book an appointment.


Sources:

ASHA. (n.d.). Accent Modification. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/professional-issues/accent-modification/.


City of Toronto. (2019). Population Demographics. Toronto. toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/99b4-TOHealthCheck_2019Chapter1.pdf

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