Accent Modification: Asking Native English Speakers for Feedback

It takes a lot of people to help someone modify their accent towards Standard American English. My role: I meet with students twice a week, assess, teach, support, educate, help to motivate, problem solve when things get “stuck,” and then some. The students’ role: practice, listen to their speech, focus, expose themselves to native speech as much as possible, and – major one here – ENLIST THE ASSISTANCE OF OTHER NATIVE SPEAKERS.

This last part is crucial for accent modification students’ progress. With assistance from other native speakers, students get feedback – immediate feedback – and encouragement. How to enlist that assistance? ASK FOR FEEDBACK.  Go ahead and ask. Most Americans are terribly hesitant to say to a non-native speaker, “That’s close but not quite an ‘l’ sound.” Most Americans just don’t want to come across as judgmental or mean-spirited. So we need permission to give feedback. We really do need that. If we don’t have that permission, most Americans will just nod and smile and pretend to know what is being said to us, or ignore the obvious mispronunciation.

Here’s what to do: Choose two or three people in your life who are native speakers of Standard American English. People you trust have your best interest at heart. People who speak English well, and are able to give pretty clear feedback. These people can be friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, neighbors, librarians, anyone you trust. And – here’s another key thing – they do not need to be able to instruct you on how to make the sound correctly. They only need to be able/willing to let you know when it’s not quite “on.” If these chosen folks think they’re going to need to instruct you, they likely won’t try.

So go ahead and make a list of possible people to ask for help with your accent modification, and think about it for a while. It’s kind of a solemn contract you’re entering with this person – they will be agreeing to help you in this most significant, sincere effort you are making: to work towards being understood all the time. This is a sacred request, and will be met with, I hope, a sincere response of “Absolutely! I’d be honored to help!”

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2 thoughts on “Accent Modification: Asking Native English Speakers for Feedback”

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Helen! You have hit upon an important cultural point in that most native English speakers in the US will not readily tell someone that their production of a particular sound or word is inaccurate. I hope it’s okay for me to direct my clients to this post when this topic comes up in our sessions.

    1. Hello, Gwendolyn – So gracious of you to comment. I’m glad this post is helpful. Yes, most certainly, let students know about this post, and best wishes to you and your students. Warmly, Helen

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