Accent Modification/English Pronunciation Instruction: Sometimes it gets harder before it gets better! What?!!

Almost always, within a couple of months, students notice a bump up in others’ understanding of them. Life gets easier, less strenuous in conversations, at work, among friends. It gets better. But sometimes, just sometimes, communication with others gets a little harder before it gets better. There’s an alarming bump DOWN. And this can cause a panic in Accent Modification students, quite understandably. The most important thing for students to know that what’s happening is this: YOU’RE REALLY IMPROVING!!!!

Why does this bump down sometimes happen? It has to do with the listeners. People who talk with (listen to) non-native speakers of English tend to listen to those folks using a template of comprehension. They hear the non-native speaker through a filter of categorization of the speaker’s accent, and match it to a quickly retrieved, so-to-speak, accent template in their  minds. This happens for the listener VERY QUICKLY, and continues to happen throughout any given conversation: matching, comparing, confused about the mismatch. SO……when a non-native speaker’s accent is dropping away, they SOMETIMES are consistent with what the listener’s brain is expecting, but NOT ALWAYS. So the listener gets confused. (Their brain is thinking, “Oh, sometimes I hear and “r” and sometimes I hear “t”…..so what am I hearing?”)

Very frustrating, to say the least, for students who are sincerely studying and practicing.

But have hope! The more the accent shifts to more consistency, the less confusing it will be to the listener, and the more fluid will be your conversations.  The more the non-native speaker can put the listener at ease (that dissonance of hearing/matching is amplified when it’s a stressful conversation), the less it will happen. Use humor. Acknowledge the awkwardness, if you can.

And remember…if this happens, it’s temporary, and it means things are improving!

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