The Dos and Don'ts of Accent TrainingAug 16, 2021
If you’ve never worked with students before but know you’d be a great teacher, these tips are a great place to start.
You’ll get an idea of what to include in sessions and learn some of the biggest mistakes that new teachers make so you can avoid them when working with your own students.
Accent Training Dos
Work on high value sounds first
These are the sounds that occur most frequently in English, affect rhythm, don't exist in the student’s native accent or language and can change a word into a different word. These will make the most dramatic improvement in your student’s speech.
Encourage practicing in conversations
Learn to ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Keep a list of conversation starters handy if you need them. Some people are very talkative. With others it is like pulling teeth. Be prepared for those awkward moments of silence.
Focus on words that they actually use
Be curious about their lives and ask questions without getting too personal. Use these conversations to collect common words that your student uses every day. Make lists of these words as extra practice.
Set clear goals
I always have my students choose a speech model. This is someone who is their gender, approximate age, and has a style, image, and way of speaking that the student feels is representative of himself or herself.
Teach which syllable to stress in multi-syllabic words
This is the #1 reason that non-native speakers are not easily understood. Get some word lists and practice emphasizing the strongest syllable in a word with your students. You will hear noticeable improvement very quickly.
Accent Training Don'ts
Don’t spend too much time on complicated evaluations.
I only do an informal conversational evaluation during the first session. I use this to create a lesson plan, then refine and add goals in future sessions as I hear more. Get right to the real work and get results for your students as quickly as possible.
Don’t assume that everyone wants to learn a General American accent.
The general American Accent is not the best accent. Not everybody wants or needs to sound like a native speaker. The goal for most of my students is simply to be easily understood and to feel confident when speaking. That is possible with any accent.
Be sure you understand the student’s unique speaking goals and challenges and always set realistic expectations for your programs.
Don’t teach too many things at once
You are the guide and you need to help your student stay focused. Most people want to immediately fix EVERYTHING, but if you work on too many sounds at once, the improvement will not be permanent.
Don’t talk more than your student
The best accent instructors are great LISTENERS, not excessive talkers. They also know how to cue and correct their students for the most permanent improvement.
Don’t use childish activities for adult students
Be sure your session techniques are just as sophisticated as your student and always age appropriate. If you use a child’s book or nursery rhymes for a practice activity (and I do sometimes use them to practice rhythm and intonation) always explain that you know it is childish and will feel a little silly, but we are doing this because simple sentence structure is great for rhythm practice, exaggerated intonations can help you learn them more easily, etc.
Long story short, if it is a silly exercise, explain WHY you are doing it.
Getting experience with real students is one of the best ways to get started as an accent and pronunciation instructor. If you don't have students of your own just yet, look around for volunteers. Family, friends, co-workers, etc. find some students who are willing to let you work with them for free and get some experience.
I hope these tips make you feel more confident about structuring sessions and working with your own students!
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