The Fastest, Easiest Way To Teach An Accent

Nov 06, 2019
 
Lesson 13

One of the fastest, easiest ways to teach an accent is to practice the pronunciations of the goal accent (that’s the accent that your student wants to learn) on the common words that they use most frequently, in real-life conversations.

Makes sense, right? You should focus on words that your student actually USES.  Not just lists of random words or old poems and reading passages that no longer represent the way people really speak, but the words that your students are saying, out loud, every single day.

The first step is to identify your student's most common words.  I am going to walk you through a step-by- step exercise that you can use with your accent training students to identify and fix the pronunciation of their most common words so that you can get them immediate, noticeable results.   Accent training takes some patience, so getting quick results when we can is great for student motivation and it builds their trust in you as a teacher.  Always a good thing.

 I have also created a PDF worksheet with all of the instructions of the exercise that we that we are going to do right now. You can download that here, print it out, and use it during your session.  You can also give to your student as homework to complete on their own.

This exercise should only take about 20 minutes.  If you choose to do this as an exercise during the session (rather than homework) read the questions below to your student and give them immediate corrections when needed.  Have your student use the worksheet, a word doc, or pen and paper to make a list as you use the prompts below.

Personal Common Word List Should Include:

  • The name of your workplace
  • Your career or job title so that when someone asks, "What do you do?", you can easily say, "I’m a speech–language pathologist," or "I’m a carpenter," whatever it is that you do, write it down.
  • The names of everyone you work with:  That includes coworkers, associates, bosses, clients, customers, vendors, etc. You should include their first and last name and their position.
  • Industry related terminology: If you are a teacher, maybe you talk about lesson plans, curriculums, grading, tests, quizzes. If you are an IT person, I’m sure there are tons of technology and software related things that I couldn’t even dream of.  Those are words that you use all the time, so add them to your list.
  • Your daily work conversations:  if you are a dermatologist, think of all the things that you say to your patients over and over again. If you are a customer service rep, think about the scripts that you use and the things you have to say over and over. You will find that your job is probably the best speech practice that you can get because you say the same things repeatedly. We all do. These words become your script, and you can practice a script until you get it right. When I work with an actor who has a script, we can memorize pronunciations, intonation and rhythm very quickly and very easily. So practice like an actor and memorize your daily scripts.
  • The name of your town and surrounding towns
  • Places that you visit often: restaurants, gyms, museums, stores, stadiums, amusement parks, etc.
  • Names of all your favorites: books, movies, TV shows, food, sports teams, hobbies, etc. If you talk about it frequently, add it to the list.

That should give you a good list to start. Now you need to practice the correct pronunciations. If you don’t know how to pronounce any of the words on your list, you have a few options:

  • Ask a friend how to pronounce and write the word the way it sounds, not the way it is spelled.
  • Use a text to speech app.  The one I like is called Natural Readers.
  • Look up the word in an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster or Oxford. These dictionaries have clickable audio links for each entry.
  • Bring the list to our next session.

Now, set a timer for 5 minutes and just start writing down any other words that you can think of that you know you say out loud in a typical day. Not just words that you see a lot in emails or other documents that you read, but words that you SAY OUT LOUD.

And that is the end of the exercise.

Your student should practice these words so often and so frequently that they don’t even have to think about how to pronounce them.  They just come out perfectly and automatically.

My recommendation is always to practice a set of about 20-30 common words every day for one week, and then move on to a new set of words. If you try to fix too many words at once, the new pronunciation won’t become automatic or permanent.

Also remind your student to keep adding to the list and to bring it back to each session for practice.  Say to them,  "From now on, any time someone asks you to repeat yourself, add that word to your list. As your list grows, your accent changes and as you keep at it, you will find that your instinct for pronunciations and rhythms and intonations of the goal accent gets better and better, so that changes too."

This is usually one of the first things that I do with a new student.  I hope you find the exercise useful and feel free to adapt with your own questions to prompt common words.

Questions or comments about this lesson?  Join me in our private Facebook group for Accent, Dialect, and Pronunciation Instructors.  

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