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Four Simple Steps to Speaking Confidently and Clearly if you have a Foreign Accent

Jun 26, 2017 11:10AM ● By The Hood Magazine


By: Treva Graves

A foreign accent is when a person applies the patterns of their first language to their second language. This is especially problematic when the second language is English. English has a multitude of characteristics that are very different from most other languages.

A foreign accent may be strongly influenced by using too much effort and over-pronunciation during speech.

Is an Accent a Bad Thing?

An accent is not a terrible thing, but it may not be representative of your personality.  An accent is simply a superficial part of your identity. 

However, people may not always understand everything that you are saying.  If patients struggle to follow your treatment recommendations, or they are working too hard trying to understand what you are saying, you may have a problem.

What’s a call to action?

We have calls-to-action in every communicative situation we find ourselves in. If you are trying to succeed in your professional and personal life, an accent can stand in the way.

Here are 4 main accent issues that may cause a communication problem.

1. Staccato Intonation

People with accents invariably use a consistent intonation pattern, which means that each syllable is the same length and volume. Staccato intonation doesn’t work for Standard American English.

2.  Over-Pronunciation

When foreign speakers see a “t” they want to pop it.  For example:  “butter vs. budder.”

3.  Front Resonance

Are your lips and face moving when you speak?  They should be moving very little-if at all.

Most languages are characterized by a front resonance which means that there is a focus of energy in the front of the mouth (lips and teeth.)  Standard American English is unique in that the resonance is focused on the back of the tongue.

4.  Nasality

Very often, English speakers are different from other languages in that it is the most oral common language. When people speak ESL, they bring the characteristics of their “mother” tongue into their communication pattern, which often includes nasality.

How to ‘Sound American’ in 4 Steps

It’s not as hard as it seems.  Use fewer words and break your speech into breath groups.  Most people speak in run-on sentences with lots of filler words.  Break your speech into “units of meaning.”  You should use groups of words that can’t be separated.

Try using varied intonation, contractions, back resonance and letting the air come out of your mouth on all sounds except, /m/, /n/, and /ng/.  It seems overwhelming, but by working on improving your speech and voice patterns with a certified speech pathologist, you will be on your way to speaking with an American accent.

Knowing what you’re doing right and wrong is an important mile-marker on your quest to communicate clearly and effectively.

Treva Graves is a speech language pathologist and a communication coach based in Sioux Falls.

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