Accent Reduction Classes: Mini Case Studies

Part 1 in a Series of 3

February 27, 2023
February 27, 2023 Rochel deOliveira

Many people who inquire about our accent reduction programs ask us “What do students do in your classes, anyway?”

So we thought it would be fun and useful to showcase a few “mini case studies” of some of our real-life students working hard on their American accents.

This is the first of 3 posts featuring snapshots of teaching and learning moments during our clients’ sessions.

Mini-Case 1: A young Israeli couple, two university professors just starting their semi-private classes, expressed their feelings about how difficult “R” is to pronounce, with remarks like “frustrating!” “so embarrassing!” and “we can’t fix it!”. So their instructor jumped right into working on it, exploring the unstressed “er” sound at the ends of words. First she taught them a little trick to position the tongue correctly. Then they tried out their “er” in words like “researcher”, “lecture”, and “conquer”. The pronunciation of the phoneme was now accurate but it felt sort of heavy and stressed. Finally, they discovered that by relaxing the tongue, shortening the “er” syllable, and pronouncing “er” like they didn’t really care about it, their “er”-problem was solved.

Next week’s goal: They will be trying those words in conversation.

Mini-Case 2: A middle-aged Chinese A.I. engineer has been working on the L sound. 60% of the time, at the beginnings and middles of words, he pronounces the L as N. Instead of “life solutions” he says “knife solutions”! (He blames this on his Chinese childhood English teacher who had the same problem.) We have not yet been able to find any patterns or clues to explain his 40% success rate. But today his L immediately improved  when he trapped his tongue tip between his teeth, turned on his voice, and then simply opened his mouth. The result: a perfect “la”. He was very happy and said: “I felt the energy in my tongue instead of my nose.” (He can also nail the L when he plugs his nose but he doesn’t seem to like doing that!)

Next week’s goal: To get that 40% to at least 60%.

Mini-Case 3: A California-based business consultant from Japan worked on his presentation skills in his session this week. He learned how to identify key words in his message and raise his vocal pitch to draw attention to them.  By emphasizing key operative words, he became more effective at signaling that a comparison had been made. Here’s an example of that: “Last year we focused on building excitement about our new program teaching puppies to talk, but this year we will not be focusing on that.” His Japanese-accented English was so much easier to understand once the intonation contours fell into place in a more American-accented way.

Next week: The client will prepare 3 short mock presentations demonstrating his new understanding of how varying intonation results in clearer messaging. (And maybe someday his company will resume the puppy project!!! 🐶💬)

Here are a few quick and simple tips to keep your own American accent practice moving forward.