Why Celebrating Successes Is Important When Modifying Your Accent

Accent Modification success celebration - Helen KobekIt happens to all of us, pretty much, whether or not we are engaged in accent modification or not: We start off a new project with great enthusiasm, chug away at it for a number of months (or days, or weeks) and then BAM! We hit a wall. Something stops moving forward. “What am I doing wrong?” we wonder. “Should I just drop this whole thing?”

This is how it happens with accent modification sometimes. The basics have been achieved: The diphthongs have been added, the aspiration is settling in where it belongs, the dentalizing has eased, the melody is wonderful, but something is missing. And students feel it. They know they’ve “got it,” but something feels ill at ease. Unsettled overall.

Well, that’s because it IS unsettled. It IS ill at ease. They have “got it,” but what that means is just that the changes they’ve needed or wanted to make are in their hands, but their hands are still – as it were – palm-up and open. There is not a strong sense of the hands being closed around these changes. As if the changes could just slip out of their hands. Very unsettling.

This, we know, is the learning process. When we learn something, there is a time when we have to come to “make it ours.” It’s not just about practice and experience. It’s more than that.

It is about having lots of time with the changed patterns. It is about whether the student feels the changes are theirs or the teacher’s. (In other words, does the student make the correct pronunciation without cueing from the teacher?) It is about whether or not the changes come out of the student’s mouth naturally or with struggle and effort. It is about TRUSTING in the changes.

So how does an accent modification student firm that up? Close their hands around the changes? Claim them as their own?

Well, for one thing, give it time. And how much time is different for each student. Some students claim these changes pretty quickly, while others move along with self-doubt for an uncomfortably long time. But here’s a tip for how to solidify that trust, shorten the time needed: CELEBRATE THE CHANGES AS THEY SHOW UP. Yes, celebrate! My students see me celebrate (being happy, saying “That’s IT!”) around each move, each step, each correction. Sometimes it is truly surprising to some students – especially students who are the merest bit quiet, shall we say, shy. But they begin to experience the benefit of celebration over time. They feel the encouragement, because they know it took effort for them to produce the change. And they want to hold it as their own. Celebration of change is not just reinforcing it…no…It’s saying “Wonderful!” instead of just “You got it right.”

So, as you make changes, go ahead and celebrate each step. It will, for sure, help you lock in those hard-won changes, as you move towards being understood all the time!

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