“What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death”.
– Octavio Paz, Mexican poet, writer and diplomat; 1914-1998
I love this quote. So why would I start a business helping people change their accent?
Here’s how people search for our services: “Accent Reduction”. “Accent Modification”. “Accent Elimination”. “Accent Correction”.
AND LET’S ALSO CONSIDER THE NAME OF OUR BUSINESS:
“AccentsOff Speech and Voice Improvement”. Accents OFF. Say what?
With a name like that, it might look like I wish NO ONE would have an accent. Maybe I want EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to speak the same so they could all get hired by ABC News.
No way. I happen to ADORE accents. I can imitate a mean British English and a full-on-twang Southern American accent, and do so with zest. I’m about to start French classes and I can’t wait to try out the lovely French resonance.
My mother and father were both German immigrants and I remember how neat I thought that was compared to the Hudson Valley accent I was hearing all around me. Here are my mother and me celebrating a German-style Christmas:
I got interested in accent work as I was applying for graduate studies. It was the hook to get me to sign my life over to Speech-Language Pathology. Before that I spent thousands of hours in the music profession, as a performing and teaching classical pianist. Loved it, but came to the conclusion that I wanted to learn a new skill. Something that would intrigue me for at least the next 60 years of life. Something related, but different.
For me, accent modification was the perfect way to continue exploring and playing with sound, in a new medium, and sharing that experience.
I got lucky after graduation and was hired by Sam Chwat, known as the “Speech Therapist to the Stars”. He had worked with many celebrity actors including Robert De Niro, Julia Roberts, and Kathleen Turner.
Here was the waiting area at New York Speech Improvement…always a conversation-starter:
Sam coached actors and top executives, and taught me the ropes. Working with him was an honor and a pleasure – he was a brilliant speech pathologist with a penetrating knowledge of accents, linguistics, and culture. Sam passed away in 2011 and it was time to open my own business.
Since then I’ve hired Lisa and Andrea, two super-talented speech pathologist coaches, and we’ve opened our doors to hundreds of clients — wonderful people from diverse language and professional backgrounds: executives, students, actors.
Many people come in with the complaint that people aren’t understanding them. Especially in noisy restaurants. Or on the phone. And how they’re getting a bit tired of “Oh, nice to meet you! Where are you from?”
One guy walked in and said “Kill my accent!” (Apparently had had some bad experiences). I told him I didn’t want to kill anything or anybody so we just did some exercises together for a while and he started feeling better.
Some people don’t want to lose their accent at all. They are rising in their careers and just want to communicate as clearly as possible. Some people want to sound a little more “American”. So we work on the Standard American English accent.
Which is really what “accent reduction” is. We’re adding, not subtracting:
|Before AccentsOff||After AccentsOff|
|You have flat intonation and because you think fast you speak fast and people canu2019t always understand you.||Now you know where to stress and hang out on key words to make your lovely, brilliant thoughts even clearer.|
|You know you have an accent and mispronounce words but not sure exactly what the issues are.||You now have a clear understanding of which specific sounds you pronounce differently than what American ears expect to hear and youu2019re getting fewer requests to repeat.|
|You speak and donu2019t really know how you sound to others.||By the end of Week 1, we often hear u201cI canu2019t believe that I can finally hear myselfu201d and u201cI am secretly enjoying noticing how other people speaku201d.|
|You mispronounce words important to your work. You know you say u201cDEVIL - upu201d and itu2019s not what you mean.||You have learned your core workplace vocabulary with the correct pronunciation. People notice that you are u201cdih - VEL - uppingu201d a clearer communication style.|
|You speak less often than youu2019d like. You speak a little more quietly than in your native language. You make mistakes that you normally wouldnu2019t because youu2019re nervous.||You feel confident at meetings and parties because you know that your speech is absolutely fine and that you have something important to say that others need to hear.|