The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA): Why We Use IPA Charts during Accent Modification Training

Image of IPA vowel chart - accent instructionWhen an accent modification student first sees the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) charts on the table in front of us, their eyes somewhat glaze over…they do  have a pretty sterile, oddball look to them, I acknowledge that. Hmmm…are they really necessary for the learning process? I suggest, yes, they are really necessary. I refer to these charts constantly during lessons. I roll them out, place them on the table half-way through the very first lesson, after the assessment. I lay them out at the start of every following lesson. And they are the last things I put away at the end of a lesson. I teach the students the lay of the land of those charts – both vowel and consonant charts –  and students relate to them, with increasing curiosity and ownership of their learning. It really does help.

The symbols are the merest bit unusual, but it always heartens me when a student starts warming up to the process, and voluntarily learns the symbols that are key to their individual accent modification. In studying together, the charts become a focal point for movement between and among sounds. A goal, an adventure, an effort supported by the documented reality called “pronunciation.” It seems to offer students the support of knowing they are not alone in this learning process, this strenuous effort for change. Frequently, after some familiarity with the IPA, a student asks about the origins of the IPA…”Who came up with this?” they ask with amusement and delight. (The answer: Alexander Ellis, Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, and Paul Passy, in the late 19th century.)

My IPA charts are fully visible, encased in plastic, and are also old, a bit crumpled, and I leave them that way, so students know – really know – that others have come before them and struggled, studied, and made progress using these charts. Okay, yes, I do replace them after a while, but the ones I’m using right now are ten years old. That’s ten years of shared curiosity and amusement, countless students who have handled these particular charts, pointed to the karat symbol, asking, “Is that what I’m going for?” I nod. “Oh!” they say. “I get it!” That karat’s presence helps them nail that phoneme. Very exciting.

So I look forward to sitting with you, the student, or with your family member, friend, neighbor, or colleague, who is making the effort to modify their accent. Peering together at this system, these charts, these worn tools of reference and learning. “Oh, I get it!” And you will get it. You will.

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© 2017-2022 Helen Kobek and helenkobek.com. All rights reserved.

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How to Modify Your Accent Using Your Imagination

Indian Girl White Dress Female Girl Woman IndianThe first thing most accent modification students say to me when they start working on their English pronunciation is, “But I’ve tried before so many times to reduce my accent, and I just can’t get it!” I try to share with them the confidence I have in their ability to change their accent, to be understood all the time. The confidence that it works, when we put together their commitment with my decades of experience and individualized, creative teaching methods. IT CAN BE DONE. Does it happen overnight? Of course not. But SOMETHING HAPPENS QUICKLY – awareness happens quickly (for some things, sometimes overnight), and I have heard from many students that within a month or so, they are much less frequently asked to repeat themselves, and their confidence rises. They begin to have hope that they will be understood all the time. They enter conversations with employers, employees, patients, students, store clerks, etc., with greater confidence. This part I’m talking about here is the active practice, learning where to put the tongue, and other very tangible techniques.

But, then, there’s daydreaming, which can move you along, too.

A technique I suggest to students who are blessed with very active, creative imaginations,, is to daydream themselves speaking standard American English. Students sometimes seem perplexed by this idea…”How” they wonder aloud “can I imagine something I cannot do in real life?” Valid question, indeed, but they are often surprised by how much it helps. The imagining doesn’t need to be perfect, and wouldn’t be for a while. But it’s the process of letting the mind create speech, correcting itself, exploring, and redoing that exercises the mind in a different way when actual speech is “turned off.” By traveling with the mind, one learns how much one already knows but has tucked away, not being used.

TRY IT! Go ahead! Choose a topic you enjoy. Truly enjoy. Not something that will bore you to sleep while daydreaming, but something that lifts you into great joy. Say, a sport you find mesmerizing, an accomplishment of your child, something you did that made you proud, something in the sciences that your find fascinating. Anything vivid for you. Set aside fifteen minutes, relax. You can either close your eyes, or keep your eyes open, and look upward, distantly unfocused, and start your inner speech. Listen to your voice. Stop and correct yourself, repeat. Just have an exploratory time with it.

When you’re done, make note of how it went, how you feel the speech you produced was. What was the daydreaming like? You might even admire the excellence of your daydreamed speech! I’ve heard students say that.

Regardless of how fluent you are in your daydreaming, it gives you a chance to talk yourself creatively and quietly towards being understood all the time! And you’ll start by understanding yourself because, after all, you’ll know what you are saying! Enjoy and daydream!

© 2017-2022 Helen Kobek and helenkobek.com. All rights reserved.