Accent Training: My Student Sounds WORSE After a Few Sessions...HELP!

Apr 22, 2024

If you're an accent instructor, Speech Pathologist, or ESL teacher who works with your students on accent modification or pronunciation, I want to share a story that may sound familiar to you.

One of the teachers in my Accent Specialist Training Program was working with her first client.  To monitor this client's progress, she recorded the initial assessment and then she recorded the client at the 5th session to document the progress (this is a wonderful thing to do BTW).

However, in this case, the client sounded WORSE at the 5th session! 

Her speech was way more choppy and full of obvious mistakes.  And because the client had completed 5 sessions and was now really aware of her mistakes, she kept stopping herself, going back and correcting those mistakes. 

So obviously, this new teacher was discouraged, and she wanted to make sure that her client didn't get discouraged too and think that the sessions weren’t effective.  This teacher knew the student was making progress overall, but how could she prove it when the student could hear all of those mistakes in the recording?!?

Well, this does happen.  As a 24+ year accent specialist, it happens to me all the time.  And guess what… it's a good thing! 

It's actually a wonderful thing. 

Because if a student or client is hearing their own mistakes and correcting themselves while they're speaking, that's HUGE progress!

In the world of accent training, it's EXACTLY what we want. That's what we spend the bulk of time in our sessions training them to do!  Learning to use that skill of self-correction in real conversations. 

But what happens is that students start hearing (and correcting) all these mistakes, and they'll come back to me and say, I'm making so many more mistakes than I used to make.  I don't know what's going on.  I feel like I’m regressing!

The problem isn't that they're making more mistakes.

The problem is that they're now more aware.

So, we need to explain to our students (AT THE START OF OUR PROGRAMS BEFORE THIS HAPPENS) that hearing a mistake and correcting that mistake IS a skill.  It's actually one of the most important skills required for permanent speech improvement of any kind!

Stopping yourself when you've made a mistake and replacing the mistake with the goal sound creates a new pathway in the brain.

When we do this, we are actually retraining the brain to use the new pronunciation more often than the old pronunciation. Basically, we are replacing the old speech habit with a new speech habit.  These are basic principles of motor learning.

So, make sure your students and clients know that self-correction is a skill that gets better with time and practice.  Make sure they know that they might sound worse before they sound better.  And definitely make sure they know that the more they self-correct, the more the new habit replaces the old habit, so the new pronunciation will happen automatically and consistently in daily conversations.

BOTTOM LINE:  If your students are hearing more mistakes as they go about their day and in their daily conversations, make sure they know that it's a good thing and a sign of progress.

It means that the skill of self-correction is getting better, that their awareness
is getting better, and that the new habit is becoming consistent and automatic in conversational speech.

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