Features of the General American Accent That Benefit ALL Speakers

Jun 21, 2023

The General American Accent is usually the goal for my students, but sometimes I’m asked to explain (maybe a better word is defend???) why an ESL speaker would benefit from learning an American accent.  Do you think this accent is better than others?  Isn’t this erasing people’s identity?   Don’t you celebrate linguistic diversity?  And so on, and so on… 

And FYI, it’s not my students who are asking me to explain.  It’s usually native English speakers who already have a very neutral accent and don’t really understand how frustrating it can be to live in a world where you have trouble communicating or feel uncomfortable because you know that you are being silently judged by the way you speak.

Join me in this lesson, as I share 4 fantastic features of the General American Accent that can help ALL speakers, regardless of their accent or dialect. These tips aren't about changing a speaker’s accent.  Instead, they offer practical ways to enhance communication skills.

So, the next time someone questions the value of accent training or speech improvement, you'll have some solid arguments to defend the work that we do. Let's get started!

IMPORTANT:  The General American accent is just one accent of the many wonderful accents in this world.  It’s NOT better than any other accent.   

All accents are rule based systems and each accent has its own set of rules, but because the General American Accent is invented (it’s made up, no one grows up speaking it!) the rules of this particular linguistic system are a bit clearer than other accents and dialects that are constantly changing. 

And there are a few other benefits of learning to speak with the General American accent. And I'm talking about benefits over other dialects of English, not just accents from other languages.   There are some features of the general American accent that will improve the sound of your voice, your vocal tone, your rate of speech, and the way you sound overall.

Here are my top 4:

  1. It’s the most familiar to the largest number of listeners.

It’s the accent spoken in the entertainment and communication industries, so it reaches a wider audience way more often than other accents and dialects.  Most people’s ears are used to hearing it.

Because it’s so common and heard so often, it’s easily recognizable to speakers even from many different language backgrounds.  When you're using the General American accent, you're going to have fewer communication breakdowns and less confusion in your speaking interactions.

This accent gives our speech some common ground with many more people than when we speak with other accents or dialects. Again, this is not doesn't make it better but at times, it can make speaking easier. 

  1. It has RULES!

Compared to other accents and dialects that are continuously evolving due to daily use and lack of regulation, the General American Accent offers more consistent and dependable rules.

For ESL speakers, these rules are a good thing.  When a speaker feels confident that they are saying everything the right way, they can relax, and enjoy conversations and other speaking situations.

  1. It can help regulate your rate of speech.

Pronouncing certain sounds as dictated in the General American Accent can help control rate of speech.  For example:

Many American dialects, as well as many non-American accents will substitute a /D/ sound for a /TH/ sound.  We do this because it is faster and easier (your tongue doesn’t need to do as much work to say the /D/ sound) so this allows us to speak more quickly. 

The /-ing/ ending is another example.  Fully pronouncing word endings add clarity to our speech, but sometimes, it’s just easier and faster to skip them. 

Since /TH/ and the /-ing/ ending are really common in spoken English, we have a lot of chances to pronounce or not pronounce these sounds fully.  If we don’t pronounce them fully, we can speak more quickly, sometimes so quickly that we are not easily understood.  Since the Gen Am requires full pronunciation of these (and many other consonants) it keeps our speech at the perfect rate.  Not too fast and not too slow.

  1. It can improve the sound of your voice.

Learning to pronounce voiced consonants the way we do in the General American accent especially at the ends of words adds resonance.  Resonance adds power to your voice.  It’s a really pleasant quality, that allows your voice to carry further without having to be too loud.  A lot of actors, especially in the theater, will work on being more resonant without too much effort and using voiced consonants like /Z/ which many speakers tend to skip can really help with this.

We all speak with some sort of accent or dialect, and these are rule governed linguistic systems.  For this reason, one accent or dialect is not better than another they are just DIFFERENT.

That being said, learning to use the general American English accent can be a powerful tool to improve vocal quality and make conversations easier.

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