Accent Reduction – an Efficacy Study

Natacha Moreno, M.S., CCC-SLP

 

Accents are part of an individual’s heritage and oftentimes a great source of pride.  For some, however, accents can also be a cause of discomfort, in cases where the listener is unable to understand what the non-native speaker is attempting to communicate, or worse, misunderstands.   In these cases, the non-native speakers find themselves having to repeat, or re-phrase, what they have just said. 

Foreign accents occur when a person speaks one language using some of the rules or sounds of another language.   When an individual is trying to acquire a sound that does not exist in his native language, he will simply substitute for a similar sound that does occur in his first language.  Some sounds may be similar in both languages, with only a slight variation, causing the perception of a distorted sound when spoken by a non-native speaker.    Another element contributing to accents is prosody, specifically the length of pauses, word stress, and intonation patterns used when speaking.    

 

Accent management- also called accent reduction, modification, or refinement- offers non-native speakers who are in need of clearer speech an avenue to more effective communication.  It focuses not only on the pronunciation of sounds, but also on the prosodic features of speech. 

 

In a 2014 study, Alison Behrman investigated the efficacy of providing accent reduction services to a group of native speakers of Hindi who were attempting to improve their pronunciation of American English (AE).    Participants were 4 adult male, native Hindi speakers proficient in English, but possessing a moderate to heavy Indian accent.  Each received 10 individual, 1 hour training sessions - five sessions devoted to pronunciation and five to prosodic training.  Probes were conducted to measure progress, and two measurements of foreign accents - accentedness and ease of understanding were performed with a 7-point, Likert-type scale, using AE as the standard of comparison.  In this study, accentedness refers to the degree to which a non-native speaker of a language is perceived to have a foreign accent.  The listening and scoring portion of this study was performed by two individuals specializing in accent modification and/or accent coaching.

 

Results were as follows:

 

1. Both pronunciation and prosody training resulted in increased accuracy of the subjects’ targets.

2. Listeners perceived the speakers to have less accentedness and greater ease of understanding.

3.  The ease with which a listener understands a non-native speaker of American English is     related to, but different from, the perception of accentedness. 

 

Results of this study reflect the benefits of accent reduction training - in this case, of native speakers of Hindi working toward clear speech by modifying their accented American English through both pronunciation and prosody training.  Following, accent modification, speech was perceived as less accented, and easier to understand, thus rendering communication more effective overall.

 

 

Behrman, Alison. "Segmental and Prosodic Approaches to Accent Management." American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 23.4 (2014): 546-61. Print.