Here’s how it goes: I meet someone for the first time, and the question of what I do for work inevitably comes up. I tell them that I’m an accent reduction instructor, and if the person has an accent, the next question is almost always: “What do you think – do I need accent reduction?”
My standard answer is really a series of questions:
- Does your accent cause misunderstandings, thus creating frustration, discomfort, or other difficulties in your everyday life?
- Do you WANT to be able to speak with a Standard American Accent for any reason?
- Do you have the will and the motivation to commit your time, resources, and energy towards a training program of accent reduction lessons?
Only you can decide if accent lessons are right for you! If your answers to the above three questions are “No, no, and no,” and you are comfortable with your voice as is, then accent lessons are not for you… And that’s ok! We do not all need to sound the same, and the ability to put on a Standard American Accent is not something that everyone wants or needs. In fact, some people feel that their accent is part of who they are and they wouldn’t dream of changing it.
So, who chooses to take accent reduction lessons? Well, first of all, anyone who answered “yes” to any of the above questions. More broadly, I’ve noticed that the reason my students choose to take lessons has surprisingly little to do with the “strength” of their accents, and a lot to do with how motivated they are to “reduce their accent”, i.e. learn to speak Standard American English.
Here are just a few sample descriptions of people who have chosen to take Accent Eraser’s training program:
- People who work in professions in which clear communication is essential, such as doctors and lawyers. They speak English as a second language, and their command of English grammar and vocabulary is excellent, yet they find that other people often misunderstand them or ask them to repeat themselves, especially over the phone.
- Individuals such as actors and interpreters who wish to attain as close to a Standard American Accent as possible for work purposes.
- Those with a strong interest in language, accent, and voice who wish to learn a Standard American Accent out of their own interest, or for fun.
- People from a wide variety of accent backgrounds, including those with regional accents, who wish to be able to turn a Standard American Accent on or off in certain settings, based on whether they want to be perceived as having a noticeable “accent” or not.
To answer the original question – it’s not my place tell people whether they need accent reduction lessons or not. There is nothing wrong with having an accent, and taking such lessons is a completely personal decision. When discussing this topic, it’s unavoidable to mention that unfortunately, some people feel societal pressure to speak without an accent in order to not be penalized at work, or socially. I think this is completely unfair and messed up that these negative stereotypes exist towards some accents, and that “Standard American English” is unfairly upheld as the ideal. This is the unfortunate reality at the present moment. A lot of work has yet to be done towards changing the ingrained negative stereotypes that exist in society today towards some accents. This is a complex topic and I plan to write a future blog post detailing strategies for combating negative stereotypes about accents in society. (UPDATE: See 4 Things People With Accents Wished You Knew) In the meantime, I view learning the Standard American English accent as bridging the gap between the ideal (i.e. for everyone in the United States to accept that all accents are of equal value) and the current situation on the ground (people’s first-hand experiences with being discriminated against or being put into an uncomfortable position due to having an accent.)
In summary, if a person decides that there would be fewer obstacles, frustrations, or awkward moments in their life if they could speak without an accent, or if they decide that taking accent lessons would be a fun and interesting use of their time, then I am here to teach those individuals. Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more about accent training!