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Accent reduction, also known as elocution, accent modification or accent neutralization, is a systematic approach used to learn or adopt a new accent. It is the process of learning the sound system (or phonology) of a language or dialect. The methodology involves several steps, which include identifying deviations in the person's current speech from the desired accent (such as pronunciation, speech patterns, and speech habits), changing the way one uses the mouth, teeth, and tongue to form vowel and consonant sounds, modifying one's intonation and stress patterns, and changing one's rhythm. Using this method, individuals such as those mastering a second language may alter their speech to more closely resemble the accent of a certain group of people, and thus enhance the clarity of their communication with those people.
Two distinct types of accent reduction coaching are available: the type of coaching targeted at telemarketers generally focuses on helping people to say scripted speech with a more "native-like" accent, while the type of coaching typically offered to business people is usually geared towards assisting people to minimize miscommunication in spontaneous, conversational speech. The reason that this distinction is important is that while it is sometimes possible for adults to say limited pre-rehearsed phrases with little or no accent, most experts agree that adults cannot learn to speak with no foreign accent in live, everyday speech (see Pennycook, 1999). Therefore, a person who receives coaching targeted at scripted situations will sometimes achieve very good results when reading from a script, but will not usually improve in real, everyday speech. On the other hand, a person who receives training targeted at everyday speaking situations will experience a reduction in miscommunications in live, speaking situations. When choosing an accent coach, it is important to pick a coach who understands the type of coaching needed.
Accent modification is offered by various certified speech-language trainers, linguists and specialists in ESL. In the United States, they are promoted by various organizations including the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA), Voice & Speech Trainers Association (VASTA), and Accent Reduction Training Association (ARTA). Accent reduction training is available in a variety of ways: through workshops, seminars, classrooms, software, online software products, over the phone, over webcam, through books and recordings, and on a one-on-one basis.
Key focuses for accent improvement teaches students how to pronounce difficult sounds such as /θ/, /ð/, /r/, /l/, and /w/; intonation, stress, and rhythm. Spanish and Portuguese speakers might add an /h/ before the vowel /ɪ/, as in "his" for "is". Therefore vowel sounds are also covered in accent reduction training. Practicing of the vowel /ɪ/ most commonly spelled "i" is done by reciting a few of the following differences: his versus is, hit versus it, hill versus ill. By not letting the back of their tongue touch the palate, native speakers of Asian languages (Chinese, etc.) can avoid adding a /j/ before the /ɪ/ for example in speaking "yin" instead of "in". Other activities by specialists to help the student include games, activities, and printable workbooks to help students practice what they learn.
Although the reduction of a student's accent can be achieved through training, some linguists are critical that they give students a false hope that they will lose their accents. According to Dennis Baron, a linguistics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, eliminating an accent is difficult. Calming an accent, he said, takes years of interaction with native English speakers. Even so, under U.S. labor law, employers can make job decisions based on accent if it interferes with work. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does receive a small number of complaints every year from individuals who believe they are victims of accent-related job discrimination.
The actors Charlize Theron, Portia de Rossi and Anthony La Paglia are examples of some notable people who received such training to lose their native accents and develop American accents, even in everyday speech.