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What Is an Accent Reduction?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 23, 2024
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Accent reduction, in speech, are strategies to make regional accents less noticeable. A shrinking global community means people from many different countries will probably interact in a professional or even personal setting at one time or another. Deciphering spoken communication with so many different accents can be a challenge. Elocution, or speech modification, makes it easier for people to understand each other.

Businesspeople who are sensitive to the way they speak and how well they are understood by others may undertake accent reduction. Actors who wish to mask their own or learn a new speech pattern for a role also use these techniques. American actress Meryl Streep has been especially known for her varied, and authentic, accents. Non-native English speakers may seek elocution training so communication in their new language is clearer and they will have more professional opportunities.

The first step is to find a qualified speech-language pathologist (SLP) or training program. Organizations like The American Speech Language Hearing Association can recommend certified professionals. An SLP will provide a thorough evaluation, listening to the phonology of the accent in question and devise a program to modify it. The one-on-one approach may be costly, but payment plans can be discussed before any accent reduction training begins. Classes both online and in person can be found, along with software and recordings.

One of the things any trainer or accent reduction class will do is teach the speaker to alter the way consonants and vowels are pronounced. This is accomplished by changing the way the tongue, mouth and lips are used to say the sounds. Exercises and practice are usually the best way to achieve the desired results. Additional characteristics of accents are rhythm of speech and intonation, along with stress points. These, too, will have to be altered to conform with the new accent.

The correct approach to accent reduction can be critical in retaining spontaneity in conversation. While actors can learn to say their lines in a British accent, for example, it’s much harder to speak naturally that way. Training can be geared toward conversation skills or reading scripted lines. The latter can benefit technical support or customer service workers who typically stick to a pre-written set of questions and answers when they help customers. Those seeking to alter their accents when conversing with people in a more casual setting or a business meeting should approach an accent reduction training program with that in mind.

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Discussion Comments
By Emilski — On Jul 25, 2012

@titans62 - I agree about the difficulty in doing accents. I can do one or two, but that is about it. Most of the others end up sounding like Jerry Seinfeld.

I think the speed at which you could learn a new accent or get rid of an old one would just depend on the person. I think a lot of it would be learning to listen to yourself while you are speaking and making the necessary changes. At the same time, some accents I think would be much harder to learn than others.

Even two people born in England could face different challenges at developing an American accent just based on the fact that some parts of England have stronger accents. I think it gets more difficult the further away from your native language you get. People from Asia are typically thought of as having a hard time developing an American accent, because English and Japanese, for example, are much more different than English and German as far as phonetics goes.

By titans62 — On Jul 25, 2012

@Izzy78 - I think it is safe to say that no matter where you go in the US you will find some people who talk with kind of a regional accent but plenty of other people who talk with a "normal" accent. I'd say the areas you mentioned are just more noticeable because the accents are more heavy.

I wonder what all is involved in accent reduction. For example, I have been told that I have a slight accent compared to a lot of the other people I grew up with. If I wanted to talk with a New York City accent, how much time would it take? I would also be interested to know how much it would cost to take these classes. Given the importance of the courses for the people taking them, I bet they cost quite a lot.

I also think it is very impressive when someone can do a bunch of different accents. I am horrible at doing accents, so I know that it must take a lot of practice to get good at doing it.

By Izzy78 — On Jul 24, 2012

@TreeMan - I had a friend who worked for a telephone company in directory assistance. He said that during the interview they had him read various passages to check for any type of accent. Although not everyone will have a perfect accent, they try to pick people that have a very clear speaking voice that will be easy to understand over the phone.

I think it is interesting that you mentioned Midwesterners having closest to the typical American accent. My friend also used to point out that almost all of the main customer service branches for his company were located in the Midwest. I guess maybe that is why.

With that being said, unless I go to one of the areas like the southern US or New England where there are very stereotypical accents, I usually don't notice people talking much differently.

By TreeMan — On Jul 24, 2012

Besides actors using accent reduction, I know that a lot of other people who regularly appear on TV go through the process, as well.

I was watching a show not too long ago where they were talking about news anchors who had to go through various classes to remove their accents. It is okay when you are working on a local station, but if you get promoted to a more regional or national level, it is expected that you will talk with what they called a "neutral Midwest accent." The interesting thing they noted was that, although the neutral accent is what people usually think of when they think of an American accent, very few Americans actually end up speaking that way naturally.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 23, 2012

I had no idea there were different kinds of accent reduction. I have noticed though, that sometimes when I call customer service lines that have overseas workers, I run into problems if they have to deviate from their script. I can understand them fine at first, but if I have questions about what they're saying and they don't have a scripted answer, it's harder to understand them.

I really think customer service workers like this could benefit from doing both kinds of accent reduction. They need to be able to read from a script but they also need to be able to carry on a conversation.

By starrynight — On Jul 23, 2012

@Azuza - I never thought of that as a possible problem. But people here in the United States do tend to like those British accents, so I can understand why people were commenting about it to your friend all the time.

I actually know someone who did accent reduction too, but for another reason. A friend of mine moved to another country that wasn't wild about Americans. However, people could instantly tell she was American by her accent, so she did accent reduction to get rid of it so she could sound more local. It worked really well for her.

By Azuza — On Jul 22, 2012

There are other reasons someone might want to alter their accent too. For example, I used to work with a lady who had moved to the United States from Croatia. She learned English over there, but she learned "the Queen's English" so to speak. So she had kind of a British accent.

She got so sick of people commenting on her accent that she decided to try accent reduction so she would sound more American. For her, the problem wasn't that people couldn't understand her, because they understood her fine. She just got sick of her accent being the topic of conversation every single day!

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