15 LIFESAVING ACCENT MODIFICATION ONLINE TIPS FROM A SPEECH PATHOLOGIST
As an English Pronunciation specialist I’ve spent nearly 15 years helping people from all over the world modify their spoken English. Either to speak more clearly or sound more like a local English speaker.
Over that time I’ve found that most learners have 5 or 6 pronunciation areas that they need to correct through accent modification training. What they need to work on depends on what their first language is.
15 Lifesaving Online Accent Modification tips.
This article assumes you are an English second language speaker looking to speak English more clearly or sound like a native English speaker.
People usually start thinking about their accents after they have a good comprehension, grammar and vocabulary. Online training is a perfect way to way to commence the process of accent modification.
What type of objectives are you hoping to achieve?
Is being understood most important or are you aiming to sound like someone who grew up speaking English as their first language.
Tip 1. Train your ear to hear different pronunciation
Listen more carefully to other people’s pronunciation:
When you listen to an English speaker, start to listen more carefully to the sounds they make and the pitch of their voice.
Listen more carefully to your own pronunciation:
How are you making word stress in English?
How are pronouncing word endings, past tense and vowel sounds?
The first step with taking on board accent modification tips is to start to become aware of these things.
Once you are aware of them, then you can begin to change them. If you aren’t aware of them, then you can’t change them! Because you simply cannot HEAR what you need to aim for.
Tip 2. Speak more English out loud, find a place to practice your english
Speak out loud as often as you can, either to other people or when you’re alone. Other people is better of course. Become really good at speaking English aloud. Repeat after the TV, use music, repeat after ads.
Just try to keep speaking as much English as you can. This applies more to people who live in an English speaking country. Sometimes they can hold back on speaking out loud because they’re worried about criticism.
Try to allocate a place where you can speak out loud and you feel comfortable. The shower can be a good place to start.
See our video on improving your English fluency.
Tip 3. Give yourself permission to make mistakes to help modify your accent
Going on from the point above – don’t be worried about making mistakes.
Focus on moving forward!!
Remember that native speakers are listening for your message, not at the specifics of how you are pronouncing sounds. What they do notice is – are you clear or not – because they are trying to receive a message from you.
Making mistakes is fine, if you don’t make mistakes how will you correct yourself. I advise my students – instead of getting frustrated by the odd mistake make sure you celebrate when people understand what you’ve said the first time!
Tip 4. Work hard on your accent modification – you need to focus on it!
By reading this article you’ve already started. Some people can go a whole life time and remain difficult to understand despite living in the US or Canada, Australia or the UK for years.
That’s because they’ve never set out to focus on improving their English pronunciation. Like any skill, if you decide to focus on it and commit yourself to doing what’s necessary to get better, you definitely will.
When we change pronunciation we are usually changing old habits. This takes effort and repetition. So patience and persistence is needed.
Tip 5. Work with Native English Speakers
This of course depends on where you live and how much flexibility you have. If you’re living in a non-English speaking country try to choose a job that exposes you face to face or on the phone to English speakers. Then do lots of talking.
If you’re in an English speaking country and studying, then perhaps consider a job in a restaurant or call centre. It will feel uncomfortable at first but there are loads of these type of jobs where you can keep working on your speech while you earn money.
If you’re looking for a career type of role make sure you speak and participate in the workplace. Attend and speak at meetings, join social groups and try to emulate the locals in terms of speaking as much as you can. As you start to work on your accent modification you will find everything is even easier when you’re getting lots of English practice.
See more on Toastmasters Clubs – these public speaking meetings are held all over the world and are a great way to improve your spoken English, practice your accent modification techniques and new pronunciation skills. See more on Toastmasters for improving pronunciation here.
Tip 6. Commit to 15 minutes of practice daily
How much practice you undertake will directly determine your level of success. You need to make sure you put aside time to actively think about and focus on your pronunciation. I find for most people a small amount of time daily is a good way to structure your online accent modification practice.
When planning your day have a think about when might suit you – it might be walking to work, when you have breakfast or after work (if you’re an evening person). The main thing is to have a proper schedule for practicing so it gets done.
Tip 7. Establish what you want to achieve?
What does success look like for you? Start by thinking about what your pronunciation is like now and then move onto what you might want to sound like in the future. Here are some examples that might be realistic if you enrol in a good online pronunciation course.
This best describes my spoken English now
Future pronunciation after online accent modification training for 4 – 6 months.
People often as me to repeat
3 – 4 months – Much improved stress and sounds. People sometimes ask me to repeat.
5 months plus – Rarely misunderstood. Correct more correct word stress and emphasis and rhythm, vowel sounds and consonant sounds.
People sometimes ask me to repeat
3 – 4 months – Corrected stress and vowel and consonant sounds. People occasionally ask me to repeat but now I know why and can correct it!
People occasionally as me to repeat & I want to sound more like a native speaker.
5 – 6 months – Sounds more like a native speaker with more correct word stress and emphasis and rhythm, weak vowels, vowel sounds and consonant sounds.
My English is clear, I want to sound like a native speaker.
|5 – 6 months – Sounds a lot more like a native speaker with better word stress and emphasis and rhythm, weak vowels, vowel sounds* and consonant sounds.|
*Note most people over 20 can never completely remove their accents.
Tip 8. Reward yourself for your achievements
You might use the table above to mark out where you would like to be at the end of your pronunciation course and celebrate when you feel like you’ve reached that level.
Other key outcomes you might want to consider aiming for are:
- Level of confidence – think of a particular person you’re nervous to speak to at the start of your accent modification training and celebrate when you feel like you’re feeling more confident and have more English speaking confidence.
- Aim for a successful job interview or presentation which your pronunciation speech clarity might impact on
- Speaking on the phone – consider how easy it is for you to use the phone. Are you clear and easy for other people to speak to on the phone?
- Wait for a compliment – wait until someone who is familiar with you comments on how your English has improved.
In terms of how to reward yourself there’s so many things to do. I love food, new experiences, a night out with friends. Settle on something that you can look forward to and go for it.
Tip 9. Spend time around Native English speakers
The more time you spend with people who speak English practising your listening and your English pronunciation the more easy it will be for you to achieve the outcomes you’re seeking through accent modification whether it’s online or not.
Ways you can access native English speakers include:
- Through friends or a social club at work.
- Join a sporting club
- Visit a senior citizens home, join a speech making or drama club.
- Join a Gym
- Join a book club
- Native English speakers will be very supportive of someone like you who is willing to make such a big effort.
As humans we do like to stick with what we know. Meaning it’s easier for you to hang out with people from your own country.
I read a study recently that found some students from China living in Australia had poorer spoken English after 4 years than their peers who remained at Uni in China.
The issue was that the students in Australia were not getting any practice speaking English. They were listening to English at Uni and speaking Chinese with their friends. Promise yourself you won’t let this happen. You need to factor in 15 minutes to half an hour of English speaking everyday.
Tip 10. Give native speakers permission to correct you
Very often students tell me they would love to have feedback or be corrected by an native English speaker in discussion if it’s appropriate timing – meaning not in the middle of a presentation. The issue is many English speakers will not feel comfortable doing this. They might be afraid they’ll offend you.
By saying to them something like “I’d like your help. If you hear me saying a word incorrectly, or you can’t understand me, I’d like you to tell me as it will really help me to improve my pronunciation”.
Most native English speakers will be only too happy to help.
Tip 11. Practice reading English out loud
Spending time reading out loud can be very helpful. It gives you the change to listen to your own pronunciation and think more about it.
You can even record yourself, use the voice recorder on your phone or use the video function so you can watch how you form the words and spend some time listening to your speech. Any of these additional tricks to keep you thinking about your accent and pronunciation will make a big difference to the changes you can achieve.
Tip 12. Record your speech and play it back
This can be such a good way to become more familiar with what areas you might need to work on.
This works best if you have already undertaken some accent modification study and have started improving your listening techniques.
Having a recording of your speech can be extremely useful. Record yourself reading a sentence, then play it through a few times.
- How fast or slow am I speaking? If you are speaking too fast in English it can make your English unclear. The biggest problem is that fast speakers use word stress that is too flat. Hear more on how fast your English is.
- What volume am I using? Here’s a tip, we don’t have an issue with loud people. The problem people have in relation to volume is speaking too quietly. In my experience low volume speech comes from people who lack confidence. The good thing about having an issue with a low volume is it’s easy to fix. You just need to speak up. Low volume speech can also raise issues for people working in a noisy work environment, places like building sites, hospitals and busy offices can be challenging.
- Am I using good syllable stress / word emphasis? I have videos which explain what English word stress / emphasis is. Here is a whole page where you can practice and improve your word stress in English. To summarise, English speakers use emphasis to which listeners use to instantly recognise multi-syallable words in English.
Consider the word ‘computer.’ Native speakers say com.PU.ter. The start of the word is spoken with less emphasis (com), as is the end of the word. The middle syllable ‘PU’ is emphasised. This stress is really important for speaking clear English. Flat or incorrect stress will make your English unclear.
- What vowel and consonant sounds am I using? Understanding pronunciation of English vowels and English consonants makes a big difference to your speech clarity. I won’t try and explain this here, but take a look at this post on Vowel and Consonant sounds to learn more.
Tip 13. Are you moving your mouth enough for clear English?
Compared to some languages, effective clear English requires more open mouth positions.
Sometimes you see English speaking actors warming up before a performance and they’ll be stretching and warming up their mouths. Undertaking mouth movement exercises – moving your lower jaw from side to side, opening your mouth as wide as you can, sticking out your tongue and making circles can help your mouth and jaws relax and get you used to making better mouth positions. This means when you practice the open sounds required for English, the mouth positions won’t feel as strange.
Many people who speak English as a second language use a more closed mouth position when they speak English than native speakers do. Starting to watch English speakers’ mouths and how they speak will help you to start to make some accent modification changes. See more on how to move your mouth for clear English.
Tip 14. Practice with someone else
Find a partner who is also working on their pronunciation. Use them to test your speech and check in on your accent modification and how it is progressing.
You can send each other sound files and leave voice messages for your partner and then ask them for feedback. Listen to your recordings together. You can even come up with a rating system; how fast are you speaking? Do you have a good volume? How easy are you to understand? Have your practice partner give you a rating.
I define the term accent modification as the process of adjusting a person’s speech to sound more like a native English speaker, to speak more clearly, or a combination of both.
Tip 15. You need a structure – think about an online accent modification course
As you can see there’s a lot to think about. Having a structure to work though makes your chances of success much, much higher. Being able to study a pronunciation area, work on practice materials and gain feedback will make the process much easier.
There are a range of accent modification online courses available online, although we do think ours is the best!
You’ll love the fact that the training is tailored to your first language and our very cool self assessment tools allowing you to listen and compare your speech to that of a local English speakers.
Can I suggest you sign up to our free 5 day English pronunciation video course to have some free starter accent modification videos emailed to you.
Before I go, remember accents are awesome!
The term accent modification is not the best description of what it is you want to achieve and what we can help you to do. It’s a matter of adjusting your speech and not your accent. Accents are a truly wonderful part of who we are and where we grew up. Being understood is the most important and depending on who you speak with regularly you might need to change your pronunciation more or less. The older people are, the trickier their hearing is and how often they’re exposed to other ESL speaker’s English pronunciation will make a big difference. If you’re already well understood and you want to sound more like a native English speaker – great stuff! Just remember your accent is something to be proud of. You’ve spent all that time learning English – make sure you pat yourself on the back!
So here’s a quick summary of the key suggestions you can use to get some great results working through an accent modification process using online and offline tools.
- Start training you ear to hear different pronunciation
- Speak aloud – a lot
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes
- Work at your pronunciation and accent modification
- Work with Native English speakers
- Commit to daily practice
- Reward yourself for achievements
- Spend time around Native English speakers
- Give others permission to help you
- Practice reading aloud
- Record your speech
- Stretch your mouth
- Practice with a partner
- … and above all take the time to find a structured course that works
And last of all – have fun
I’ve found people who have the ability to laugh at their mistakes with others. Don’t take yourself too seriously. People want to help you and support you.
Speak out loud and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When you make a mistake laugh and move on and have fun on the way.
Thanks for reading
Head Speech Pathologist – Speech Active.