What is an accent?
An accent is the unique way that speech is pronounced by a group of people associated with a particular nation, locality, or social class. There are generally two distinct types:
Foreign Accents - for example, someone who was raised speaking Spanish and later learns English as an adult, they will sound different from someone who was raised speaking English primarily. A foreign accent occurs when the speech and sound patterns of the native language act as barriers to the pronunciation of the new language being learned.
- Regional Accents - for example, people who are from Alabama often sound different than people who are from New York.
What is accent reduction?
Accent reduction, also known as accent modification or accent neutralization, is a systematic approach to learning the speech patterns and the sound system of a non-native language. Accent Savvy trains clients to become better understood by using a more neutral American accent when needed.
Training involves undergoing an accent assessment to identify your personal pronunciation patterns that need to be modified. Sessions target self-listening skills combined with the production of sound and speech patterns at the word, sentence, paragraph, and conversational level to increase your communication skills in American English. You will learn to improve your targeted vowel and consonant sounds combined with altering your speech patterns, such as rate of speech, intonation, word and syllable stress, and vocal intensity. Accent Savvy's program is designed to mimic the natural pronunciation order we learn as a child, thereby maximizing the effectiveness and minimizing the effort needed to change your accent patterns.
Additional components that may be built into the program include learning American idioms and slang, fine-tuning grammar, voice skills, presentation and public speaking skills, and enhancing interviewing skills.
How much can I improve my accent?
Given you are motivated and practice on average an hour per day, you can expect at least a 50 to 60% improvement level. Keep in mind, improvement depends again on your motivation level combined with the amount of time you dedicate to the practice plans. Those who spend more time on practicing may reach even higher levels up to 70% improvement, conversely, those who spend less time improve less. It will take time and repetitive practice for your newly learned speech patterns to become more automatic when speaking American English.
Can I completely lose my accent?
There are some that have done it, but generally it's less than a five percent chance. Research shows that people who learn a second-language beyond the age of puberty, do not acquire native-like pronunciation due to neurological factors. Studies show there is a critical period during brain development in which children have the ability to efficiently acquire the sounds of their language. However, this region of the brain eventually matures and becomes inactive around the age of 15 and following completion of primary language learning. Obviously you are still able to learn languages after this time, but instead a second language will get filtered through the initial sound system you learned for your primary language resulting in an accent. Due to this primary language sound system ingrained in your brain, it will prove difficult to completely lose your accent.
On TV and in movies, it may appear easy for actors to switch between accents, however we don't see how many hours that go into acquiring their new voice. Often times, actors study each sentence of their script several times prior to performing. They may also have on-set coaching and are able to complete several takes of a couple lines before achieving the right accent. Add to this post-editing such as when voices are dubbed over video takes. The combination of these processes make it appear easy to gain authentic accents when it really is not. However, it is possible to soften your accent at least 50 to 70% or more depending on your time commitment, your goals, and your motivation level. In turn, you will be better understood, and people will focus less on your accent and more on what you have to say.
How much do your programs cost?
See Accent Reduction on our menu for our current programs and rates. We offer 7-week programs for regional accents or mild to moderate accents, and 12-week programs for moderate to heavy accents. Our 12-week program is on par with what a college course would cost, however, you receive one-on-one attention, materials included, and you know how to apply your skills to real life by the end of the program. Very little can be said for every college course!
We also offer a self-study program for those that have little time or money to dedicate. Customized rates for small group training of up to five people are also offered.
What type of payment do you accept?
PayPal (including credit card / bank account payments)
Personal Checks (U.S. only)
Are your online training programs just as effective as in-person?
Yes, given that you meet all the technical requirements to do so (see below). Receiving training online is also more flexible to meet the demands of your busy schedule. It allows you to receive instruction in the privacy and comfort of your own home or workplace.
What are the technical requirements to receive training online?
To receive training on the internet, you will need a computer or laptop with a web camera as well as a microphone. For optimal results, a headset with microphone is recommended which will help you hear and produce the sounds more clearly versus a built-in microphone. For more detailed specifications please see below:
- Web Camera with at least 15 frames per second (fps)
- Headset with microphone suggested for optimal results (see recommendations here)
- High Speed Internet connection with at least 150 kbps speed
- Skype account (free online) or FaceTime for Mac Users
- At least 2 GB of RAM
- At least 1 GHZ Processor
Will accent reduction cause me to lose my identity?
No, accent reduction will teach you the skills to use American pronunciation in situations when you want to be understood more easily. Generally, it's very difficult to completely eliminate an accent. Rather you will learn how to "soften" your accent so that you may be more clearly understood while still retaining your identity. Many clients come away with a "worldly" accent following training due to the combination of the American pronunciation with their primary language.
A more neutral accent is valued in the U.S. workplace. According to a 2010 research study by the University of Chicago, American participants rated non-native foreign speakers as less truthful than native American speakers based on trivia statements read out loud. Researchers stated that the American participants were wrongly associating the difficulty of understanding the non-native speech to the credibility of the statements.
Accent is one of the factors that influences people's perception of foreigners in a society including the workplace. But accent discrimination is hard to determine. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer may not base an employment decision on a person's foreign accent, unless the accent seriously interferes with the person's job performance. Consequently, employers will often require effective communication skills as being necessary to the position.
See more about the research study here: http://news.uchicago.edu/static/newsengine/pdf/newsrelease.20100719.accents.pdf
Where does training take place?
Training is available from the comforts of your home worldwide through Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime. Training is also available in-person downtown Chicago, by appointment only, at 200 W Madison.
Can I make up a missed session?
Yes, as long as you provide 24 hours notice prior to canceling a scheduled session, you can reschedule without charge.
Do you provide other services besides accent reduction?
Yes, additional components can be built into your accent reduction program which may include learning American slang and idioms, fine-tuning grammar, voice skills, presentation and public speaking skills, and enhancing interviewing skills. Please let us know at the beginning of your program what you are most interested in.
Do you teach accent acquisition for other languages? (i.e. Irish Accent)
At this time, we only provide instruction for the neutral American English accent.
What are the benefits of accent reduction?
Improves American English Pronunciation
Increases Communication Confidence
Opportunities for Career Advancement
Improves Professional Relationships
Enhances Public Speaking Skills
Better Presentation Skills
Less Repeating of Yourself
Enhances Professional Image
Improves Telephone Speaking Abilities
Who can benefit from accent reduction?
Anyone who is motivated to increase their American English communication skills such as non-native speakers or Americans with regional accents. Our typical clients include: business executives, doctors and medical professionals, media personalities, communication professionals, public speakers, professors and teachers, customer service or call center representatives, business owners, hospitality professionals, IT professionals, engineers, clergy, actors, telemarketers, salespeople, social marketers, vloggers, or any accented person seeking better communication and career advancement.
What accent reduction method do you use?
For the pronunciation aspect, I use the Compton P-ESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) method, created by Dr. Arthur Compton at the Institute of Language and Phonology in San Francisco. Dr. Compton developed this program over decades of research and teaching of American English to hundreds of individuals from 65 different language backgrounds.
My experience as a speech-language pathologist also builds upon this framework to provide feedback to my clients regarding not only their pronunciation, but their speech patterns, including rate of speech, intonation, stress, and loudness. I also feel a healthy dose of American idioms (i.e. 'to break the ice'; 'to call the shots') is important to cover as Americans use them so often. Lastly, for clients in corporate settings, business-based communication skills can be also be added to programs to assist with for effective presentations and leadership.
How proficient in English must I be? How is ESL different?
Generally, you must have a good command of English before partaking in accent modification. We suggest at least a 5th grade speaking level. Accent modification is not an ESL class (English as a Second Language). Rather it's the training you would take after ESL classes.
There are few ESL programs that provide the training required to establish adequate pronunciation skills. The result is that most people learn the vocabulary, written skills, and grammar of English but still remain poorly prepared to speak and be understood in their second language. This is where accent modification picks up to help fine-tune your English pronunciation and language skills.
Do you participate in the F-1 Visa / Form I-20 Program?
No. At this time we do not participate in the U.S. government's program to gain an F-1 Visa. For those seeking this option, please refer to the schools at the following link: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search
What are the benefits of having Caroline, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), as an instructor?
As a speech-language pathologist, Caroline's education and clinical experience have already prepared her to be an expert in pronunciation. Her background working with children with delayed articulation and language development, as well as with adults who have acquired communication impairments, have helped her to develop successful methods to improve communication skills. Add to this her experience with understanding the science of speech (i.e. how we produce speech), combined with the social aspects of language (how we relate to people), makes her uniquely able to assist you with your speech and accent needs.
Another thing that sets Caroline apart is she's able to measure your results and provide you with a percentage change at the end of your program. Not to mention, she's specifically trained in accent modification, and nationally certified by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA).
Besides being an SLP, Caroline has walked in your shoes as a second language learner of French. She has also worked in the corporate environment several years prior to becoming an SLP, so she understands the demands of speaking in front of a conference room. But despite all of this, she is a native-speaking American who is able to give you live feedback regarding your pronunciation, not only as a coach, but especially as a friend.