Christopher Witt interviewed Laura Darius on July 9, 2015
Having an accent that makes audiences work too hard to understand what you’re saying is a problem. Strong accents are even more of a problem when you’re making a virtual presentation—in a conference call or a webinar—and your audience can’t see you. That’s when accent reduction coaching can be helpful. People sometimes ask me, knowing that I’m a speech coach, if I can help them reduce their accents. I can’t. But I can refer them to an accent reduction coach whom I trust: Laura Darius. (She’s based in San Diego, but she works with clients internationally.) Because I have a lot of questions myself about accent reduction—what it is, why it matters, who can benefit from it—I interviewed Laura. Here’s what we talked about…
CW: It seems that everyone has an accent of some sort. How do you define an accent? LD: Having an accent means you’re using the sounds and rhythm of your native language to speak another language. For example, a French person can speak English with a French accent and an American person can speak French with an American accent. People who are not born in the U.S. and learn English after the age of 9 will speak English using the native sounds and rhythm of their own language. Since their native sounds don’t match the sounds or rhythm of American English, there will be some lack of clarity when speaking English.
CW: What is accent reduction? LD: Accent reduction improves your pronunciation of American English by teaching you sounds, mouth positions and speech rhythms that don’t exist in your native language. CW: If people reduce their accent, will they lose their native identity? LD: Absolutely not… unless you really want to, and then you’ll have to work long and hard to eliminate your accent.
CW: Is there anything wrong with having an accent? LD: An accent is only a problem if people misunderstand you or can’t understand you at all. People must be able to understand you on first hearing. The bottom line is, people don’t want to work that hard to understand you. If you have a strong accent, people have to listen very carefully to understand what you’re saying. Since most people don’t want to work that hard this puts you and your ideas at a disadvantage. Having a strong accent can cause problems in business when interactions and communications involve money, time and resources. When you’re presenting important data and ideas to executives who can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re literally wasting their time. And time is money. Consequently you may be relegated to being just a team member or a bench scientist or a data entry clerk instead of being given visibility and a chance to interact with management and move up the corporate ladder.
CW: Are there personal and financial benefits to reducing an accent? LD: You’ll receive more professional opportunities, recognition and status. You’ll increase your self-confidence. You’ll improve your potential for promotion, resulting in greater income and enhanced lifestyle.
Reducing your accent improves the clarity of your English pronunciation. It doesn’t affect the overall coloration and flavor of how you sound. Many international heads of state, scientists, technology entrepreneurs and media professionals speak English clearly and correctly but definitely retain their national personality, color and “flavor.” You can understand them perfectly and it’s a delight to listen to them. The reality is: if you improve your pronunciation, you will diminish your accent, but not lose it entirely unless that’s your goal. In that case, the more time, effort and practice you put in to improve your pronunciation, the less obvious your accent will be. The choice is yours.
CW: What method do you use to help clients reduce their accents? LD: I’ve been successfully teaching American Pronunciation/ Accent Reduction to executives, professionals, entrepreneurs and consumers for 30 years. The coaching process I use is a sound-by-sound approach that teaches clients how to: 1. Learn the contradictory multiple spellings of American sounds 2. Specifically position the tongue, lips and facial muscles for each sound 3. Slow down speech pacing to adjust to the very slow rhythm of American English 4. Use voice power to produce and sustain American sounds 5. Integrate correct pronunciation into everyday words, phrases and professional terminology. I’ve analyzed the accent reduction process in great detail and documented my methodology in writing to help clients figure out how to “deal” with the challenges of speaking American English clearly. CW: Do you have any resources for those who’d like to learn more? LD: I’ll be releasing my forthcoming book and video program entitled "Improve Your American Pronunciation: Speak Clearly With Confidence." This is a real “how to” program that will provide the techniques and tools to reduce your accent and improve your pronunciation. Contact Laura Darius to receive announcements concerning the release of her book.