An Accent-Reduction Case Study
In addition to coaching actors in the accents and dialects they need for characters in films and plays, I work with people in all walks of life on so-called accent reduction.
Thinking that a case study would be of interest, I’ve chosen to blog today about my client, Deepak (not his real name), who wanted to reduce his Indian accent and move closer to British English.
Deepak was born and raised in Kenya, educated in Britain and the United States, and is now a highly successful professional in the American Deep South.
While he reported very little problem making himself clear to his colleagues and his audiences – his position requires extensive public speaking – he felt stigmatized by his accent and believed that the prestige of British English would enhance him professionally. In addition, he told me, he simply loves the sound of that dialect.
I told him about GlobalEnglish, and also sent him my Standard British English for Indians eBook [now Paul’s General American booklet/ebook] to study. We made an appointment for a phone-coaching session, which I would record, sending him the download link to it. This is the way I work with all my clients. Isn’t technology marvelous!
During our first session, I assured him that he spoke clearly, elegantly, eloquently, and that his voice was very pleasant to listen to. While he used identifiably Indian sounds, I told him that this simply reflected who he is, is part of his identity, his story, and in no way demeaned his status, nor lessened his ability to communicate effectively with any English speaker in the world.
Deepak was grateful for that opinion but was still keen to move ahead with his goal. So we set to work.
I found him a highly motivated client, with a good ear, unafraid of experimenting with his own speech patterns – in short, the ideal student.
I asked him to read Comma Gets a Cure, the special diagnostic passage created using all the sounds of English in their various phonetic contexts. The vast majority of the dialect speakers you’ll find archived on Global English’s Listening Center speak this passage and you’ll easily find a text version of the passage to work with yourself.
As he read, I listened for his treatment of the various vowels and consonants in the inventory of English sounds, and to his rhythm and intonation. At the end of our first hour, I was able to tell him the five or six features of his speech he would have to modify in his quest to speak Standard British English, or Received Pronunciation, as it’s known.
These are the features Deepak and I would address:
- Words like three, through, enthrall, etc. While his “r” was on target in other contexts, when it followed the already difficult “th” consonants, there was an additional challenge. He pronounced them [DEMONSTRATE].
- His p, t, and k lacked the aspiration of the target dialect, so he would need to start saying words like pick, take, and cap with that little puff of air you hear me using, in contrast with [DEMONSTRATE], in which that puff of air is absent.
- The lexical set known as a GOAT. This includes words like home, go, chose, etc. Deepak would have to change from his Indian style [DEMONSTRATE] to the RP style [DEMONSTRATE].
- Similarly his treatment of the THOUGHT lexical set (includes call, daughter, awkward, etc) would have to change from his present style [DEMONSTRATE] to the RP [DEMONSTRATE].
- While he already used the British style in the lexical sets known as START and FORCE/NORTH, he was now using American-style r-coloration in the NURSE set. So he was on target saying barn, yard, parking, heart, north, force, course, etc., but he was now saying nurse, earn, first, turkey, etc., instead of the RP style [DEMONSTRATE].
- While native RP and General American English speakers make their t, d, n, r, and l consonants with their tongue tip on the little bump behind the top teeth (known as the alveolar ridge), many other languages require those consonants to be made with a different point of contact. For Deepak, the point of contact was further back along the roof of the mouth. So his dialect involved saying around, don’t, tendency, natural. We would work to make it habitual for him to use the alveolar ridge as the point of contact, resulting in [DEMONSTRATE].
- Finally, our work would take him closer to the British rhythmic system, with its lightly stressed words and syllables, punctuated by strongly stressed key words pitched rather higher, just as you hear me doing now.
I’m happy to say that Deepak’s great ear for languages (he speaks four or five, putting me to shame) coupled with his high desire for change made our subsequent meetings very pleasant and productive indeed. The various exercises I gave him moved him forward very rapidly and he was able, finally, to speak extemporaneously, hitting the vast majority of his target sounds.
My sessions with this client followed a fairly typical pattern, and I thought you would be interested to eavesdrop on the process I follow.