Everyone who speaks English has some kind of accent. In the U.S. there are many different accents among native English speakers. An American born and raised in Chicago may have an accent for a listener who is also American, but from Boston. Accents are always relative to some type of standard. The Boston listener uses his or her accent as the standard for comparison of the Chicago speaker’s accent.
The Standard American Accent
When we talk about accent reduction, we first must define which accent we are using as the standard. In the U.S. the widespread availability of television and radio during the last century led to the standardization by media outlets of a nationwide accent. Thus, local TV newscasters in Seattle sound very similar to newscasters in Richmond, Virginia or Bangor, Maine or anywhere else in the U.S. This “radio and TV” accent is the Standard American Accent. Although a Texan, a Bostonian, or a New Yorker may have an accent that is different from the “Standard Accent”, each of them will understand the Standard American Accent without strain or confusion. ALTA’s Accent Reduction Programs aim to facilitate communication with the broadest allotment of the diverse American population. The media-set Standard American Accent was chosen for attaining that goal with our clients.
How the ALTA accent reduction process works
First, we do an assessment of your current English pronunciation and intonation. This assessment identifies your problem areas. Whether you decide to work by yourself or with the help of a Trainer, ALTA will provide you with all the tools you need to improve your accent. The following details the process for changing how you pronounce a sound. We’ll be using the “th” sound (as in think) in this example:
- First, it is important to make sure that you can hear the difference between the correct sound and the sound that you make. For example, many ESL-speakers have trouble pronouncing the “th” in think, saying tink or dink instead. Most people can hear the difference, but do not say the sound properly.
- Next, you need to work on properly saying words containing that sound, for example: Thursday, thought, Thad, thank, thought, weather, breathe, etc. This requires a lot of repetition and practice.
- Then you move to saying sentences containing the target sound, for example: Thursday I thought Thad was thankful for the weather because he could breathe easily. Again, this requires repetition and practice.
- Sometimes we use free practice, conversation or story-telling by the student to ensure the student uses the sounds in normal conversation.
Between sessions, we ask that you spend at least three hours practicing what you did in class. This practice is essential for changing your speaking habits. Following your last session, we test your speech again and provide the results to you in a final assessment.
ALTA provides online support materials to the student. The support materials are located in the password-protected part of ALTA’s website (select Login above). The homework accent reduction materials feature native, American-English speakers saying the lesson materials that are covered in the sessions with the teacher. The student can hear the proper pronunciation of the sounds and intonation as much and as often as needed. The homework materials are always available online. An internet-accessible PC with Windows 98 or higher operating system is required to see the homework.
Many clients also require customer-specific support materials. This usually consists of four to eight online lessons that cover the client’s unique terminology and situations.