Starting Accent Training but Visiting Your Country? Tips on How to Keep Your Progress

airplane-“I’LL BE GOING BACK TO MY HOME COUNTRY in a month for two  months,” someone interested in accent modification lessons told me last week, . “How about I start it now and continue when I get back?” they asked.

“Better to wait until you come back, and start it then,” I replied, as I almost always do. It can be disappointing to students to hear that, and, of course, I’ll start with a new student who’s soon going back home if they are really firm about it, but I do tend to discourage it. Here’s my thinking about it, based on decades of experience:

I recommend that students get started in training/lessons when they have a pretty good idea that they’ll be in the United States for a solid two to six months after getting started. If a student goes back to their home country with only a month of lessons under their belt, the likelihood that they will slip back to where they started (or pretty close to it) is very high. This slipping often leads to all the things one might expect: frustration, hopelessness about change, lack of confidence, even concern on the part of employers about an employee’s English-based performance. There can also be a sense of wasting their money on earlier lessons. I’m in the accent modification field because I want to encourage students, to help them gain confidence. So I try hard to discourage the possibility of slippage.

Of course, sometimes going home suddenly (even for an extended period of time) is necessary. If someone gets started training in the United States and needs to go home before things are solid with their accent modification, here are some of many things to do to help minimize the slippage:

  1. Plan out where/when to have conversations every day with a native English speaker, whether by Skype, in person, or in an establishment frequented by native English speakers.
  2. Have access to and use (every day) audio books produced with a solid native American English speaking narrator. Choose topics of interest  – librarians are good resources for suggesting audio books.
  3. Listen (every day) to American English news, if it’s available – news feeds can be accessed in most areas.
  4. Talk out loud in English, even if no one is there to talk back. This keeps the mind engaged in the English speaking process. And, of course, listen to what is being said in the process. (Don’t ignore yourself!)

And, of course, bring along notes taken from accent modification lessons, reviewing them from time to time to stay on track. Keep your spirits up on return, knowing that catching back up to where one left off, even if things slip, is much faster than making the original changes.

And have a wonderful trip!

© 2015-2021 Helen Kobek and All rights reserved.

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!

© 2015-2021 Helen Kobek and All rights reserved.

How to Ask Native English Speakers for Feedback

friend_woman_person_man_talking-180040It takes a lot of people to help someone modify an  accent towards Standard American English. My role: I meet with students once or twice a week, assess, teach, support, educate, help to motivate, problem solve when things get “stuck,” and then some. The student’s role: practice, listen to their speech, focus, expose themselves to native speech as much as possible, and – a major one here – ENLIST THE ASSISTANCE OF OTHER NATIVE SPEAKERS.

This last student role – enlisting the help of other native English –  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 embarrass a non-native speaker, or to come across as judgmental or mean-spirited. So Americans 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. There is a wealth of help and support available in willing native English speakers who are invited to help accent modification students. Do, do, do take advantage of that.

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. (Certainly choose standard American English speakers, as opposed to albeit good-hearted folks who have, say,  British or Scottish accents.) 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!”

© 2015-2021 Helen Kobek and All rights reserved.