Communication Tips: Accent softening & accent reduction methods
Accent improvement for effective communications is a key part of personal growth and personal development. As I said before, changing the way we speak is equivalent of breaking a habit.
To break one habit, we need to develop a new one -to ultimately affect the way be speak. This is not going to happen overnight, but you will see an improvement right away, that is if you are serious about losing your accent.
Here are some of the routines to help reduce, and ultimately lose your accent:
Plan ahead: If you are still in India, in the planning stage of immigration, one of the best thing to do is to expose yourself to the spoken English language, Western style and slang, as much as possible. Some of the simple suggestions include:
a. Watch English news: Watch English news broadcasted from US or UK channels. Notice the difference in the pronunciation, the flow of speech and the overall presentation.
b. American dramas & movies: The idea is to watch and listen to the American style and slang. You may not realize it, but it is very helpful. This certainly improves our ability to comprehend foreign accent and adapt to the Western speech.
c. Find a buddy who loves Western culture and language, and practice spoken English.
d. Audio products: Find some CDs or tapes available in the market that coach verbal skills- the American way.
Listen and Listen: If you are already immigrated to your new destination, let the fun begin. First thing to do would be to embrace the local language. Listening is a part of communicating, but we need to listen even more carefully in the beginning to adapt to the new accent.
a. Listen to local news– Listen to how they talk about local stuff, local weather, local festivals etc. Pay attention to the words and syllable stress in pronunciation.
b. Watch local TV:The goal is to listen and learn the local speaking ways. One more excuse to watch TV; watch the English channels for this exercise, not desi TV.
c. American cousins: Talk to your family and friends abroad. We may not realize it, but they are our first coaches in foreign accent.
d. Expose to the local spoken language as much as possible.
Listen and Learn: Make it your first priority to improve verbal communication skills. This can be easily done in parallel with other day-to-day activities. Listen and watch for:
a. Subtle differences in the pronunciation and syllable stress.
b. Overall flow of speech – the pause in between and pitch.
c. Local slang and style– Pay attention to the English slang and style.
d. Body language – Watch the body language including hand gestures and facial expressions.
Speak slower, at first: During the early days of ‘ learning experiment’, many of us make the mistake of speaking too fast. Slow down a little; finish one word before starting next one. Give your listener some additional time to understand you. You will eventually find the right pace with time.
Practice: We won’t learn if you don’t try it firsthand. There are many different ways to do it including:
a. Practice by yourself: Some try it in the bathroom; others try in front of the mirror. You can also record your speech and listen for the differences, comparing it to the local accent.
b. Test drive it: Go talk to people who have a good grasp of local spoken English. It could be at your home; a safe place to start. Strike a conversation with someone on the street or wherever you can find a good reason to ‘small talk’. Keep your ‘chat’ short and simple at first.
c.Practice and practice: Try to implement all the knowledge gained from listening steps above in your own speech. It may take some time, but practise is the road to perfection. Practice to improve your pronunciation- overall flow of sound and syllable stress.
Understand the culture and practice some more: One has to understand the other side to communicate effectively. Make sure to explore the other side – your listeners and their culture:
a. Go to the library or shopping mall, put yourself out there.
b. Take a short walk and make some more small talk.
c. Go for a long walk and have a long conversation.
d. Go shopping:The clerks at the stores are paid for listening to their customers. They have no choice but to listen to you. Don’t look for an Indian clerk or desi customer service representative.
e. Speak clearly: Don’t try James Bond accent in America. The idea is to soften the accent – the Indian accent. The native accent will come by itself if you keep trying the local ways.
f. Smile more often: This is one of the common feedback that Indians receive during early days.
g. Repeat the steps above: Remember the habit part, it takes time.
Take chances: Once you feel comfortable with your basic interactions and communications; go a step further. Make it a part of your habit to venture out and talk to the locals as much as possible. To break a habit, you need to have a new routine.
English as a second language (ESL) classes:Many colleges and community centers offer classes for new immigrants. If you feel a need for it, this is something you may try. However, these classes focus on basic knowledge of English. In case of the Indians and NRIs, the main issue is pronunciation – the spoken communications.
Know your listener: Some people are easier to communicate with than others. Majority of the Western cultures are very conducive to, and are used to foreign and varying accents. So, don’t feel intimidated by the conversation itself. Pay attention to any direct or indirect feedback, reaction and body language of the listener.
Confidence: Speak clearly and with confidence. Remember all the listening steps above? try to implement those in your speech. And, it is never a good idea to start by saying. “I hope you can understand me….”
Accent softening coaching: There are many commercially available products, training classes and training seminars that focus on accent softening and accent reduction. They use various approaches by focusing on our existing speech habits and then guiding accordingly to minimize the thick accent. If you feel the need for it, give it a try. Many of these trainings techniques have very useful tips and exercises to help with the speech patterns. Many of them may customize their programs based on your needs. If you feel the need, it is not a bad investment in long run.
Breaking the habit: The way we speak is a habit. The article linked here -how to break a habit- has more helpful tips on breaking a routine.
Time is a great healer: There is one thing I can promise: if you try the above approach and try it seriously, your accent is bound to soften over time. I am speaking from my own experience and based on feedback from many others. More you practise and try, the more improvement you will see.
The whole process of accent softening improves our verbal skills, boosts self-confidence and is a big step towards personal growth and development. Effective communications can also lead to more opportunities of career advancement and more satisfying day-to-day living. In the end, you are the real winner.
And, the final segment on this series of posts, A self-help guide to lose you accent covers additional experiments, follow-ups and various resources for on-going improvement toward losing your accent.
Related articles on communication skills:
- Importance of Communication Skills
- How to improve your communication skills
- 30 tips on the art of small talk
- The art of elocution
- 10 Tips on English pronunciation and accent improvement!
- A self-help guide to lose your accent!
- common tips on English pronunciation for Indians