Accent Modification

Do you want to change the way you sound?

Lisa B. Marshall
6-minute read

Hire a Professional

If you have the funds, consider hiring a professional. After all, the fastest way to improve at anything is with a trained coach by your side. Our native language has a strong influence on the sounds that we as adults can differentiate. English may contain sounds that don’t exist in your language, making it difficult for you to hear them.

For example, German doesn’t have the sound /w/ as in /w/ater or /w/ant. A German speaker may ask, “Do you vant some vater?” So, it helps to have someone with a speech pathology background to explain exactly what to do with your mouth, tongue, and air to produce unfamiliar sounds. Some recent research shows success with software programs that graphically demonstrate vocalized sounds. The speaker then learns to produce sounds by vocally creating matching images.

Ideally, you’ll want a speech pathology professional who has experience teaching English as a Second Language. Maybe you could find someone who also has access to the software I mentioned. You might look for someone who’s certified in the Compton P-ESL method, which has been shown to be an effective way to help non-native speakers with their pronunciation. In all cases a professional can help identify your specific problem areas and develop exercises to help you improve. But be prepared to pay; it’s not cheap.

So what else can you do?

Recruit Help

Be sure to tell other people that you want help. But you’ll need to be specific. If you are working on slowing down, then tell your conversation partner to signal you when you are speaking too fast. Or if you forget articles, like “the” and “a,” then ask him or her to correct you when you miss one.

Focus on a single mistake. Most importantly permit others to help you. Some people will feel that making corrections is rude, so you’ll need to remind them it’s not what they say, but how they say it! Tell them exactly what you want them to do.

Consider joining a Toastmasters club; they’ll have a grammarian who certainly could help. Join your local Literacy Volunteers organization. Find a conversation partner program, or a language exchange buddy, either online or in person. These are programs designed for non-native speakers to practice with native speakers one on one or in small groups. With your conversation partner you could make mini-presentations, you could role play situations you find difficult, or you could just practice conversation. Again, the most important thing is to focus on one achievable goal per conversation.

Listen and Repeat Aloud

For practice after your sessions, ask your conversation partner to give you a list of 5-10 words that you had difficulty with. Have another native speaker record them for you. Then listen and repeat. I frequently do this for my clients to help them with specific words in very important presentations. This works great for short-term improvement and sometimes helps in the long term.

I also suggest buying one of those electronic dictionaries with sound. You can look up a word and then listen to the pronunciation. You can hear the correct pronunciation of a word whenever you want, without having to ask someone else.   We have several of these in our house. In fact, this past Halloween, I didn’t know how to pronounce the word “bat” in Spanish. I pressed the repeat button on the machine so many times that now when I say the word, I sound like the machine. My family laughs every time I say, “Murcielago.”

I also suggest listening to audio and reading at the same time. The Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts are great for this, because they are short, they’re free, and they include the audio and the text. After you are done listening to one paragraph, you should try to recite and record the same paragraph yourself. (You can use free audio recording software like GarageBand or Audacity.) You’ll be amazed at how much you can improve simply by listening to yourself and comparing directly to a native speaker. You’d better be careful, though, if you use my podcasts; you’re likely to pick up my Philadelphia accent! Of course, you can do the same thing with audiobooks, if you buy the hardcopy too. Oh and even if you don’t record, just the act of reading aloud will help strengthen your mouth muscles, which is important for proper pronunciation.

So if you are considering changing your accent, the most important tip I can share is to be patient. Don’t expect instant results and give up. You can change the way you sound if you want to. In the resource section of the show notes I’m including a link to several great resources, including free pronunciation software, to help you get started. Check them out and let us know what happens.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

Here’s my personal invitation to connect with me in the usual places: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Oh and if you’d like to support the show, it would be great if you would consider writing a five-star iTunes review (this helps to keep the show free).

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Fuertes, J.N., Potere, J.C., & Ramirez, K.Y. (2002). Effects of speech accents on interpersonal evaluations: Implications for counseling practice and research. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 8 346-356.
Workman & Smith (2008) Some Regional Accents are perceived to be less intelligent.

Businesswoman image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.