Speech Therapy for Accent Modification
Learning English is challenging as a native speaker. The grammar rules and pronunciations are difficult enough to require lessons in every year of public education. For non-native speakers, who are accustomed to entirely different rules and pronunciations, it is far more difficult. To add to the difficulty of the language itself, foreign English speakers typically retain a noticeable accent that can make communication more difficult. It is also possible for people who have spoken English their entire lives to have a pronounced accent indicative of the region they were raised.
Regardless of age, learning English as a secondary language will usually be evident in the way certain words and sounds are spoken. Someone who has been raised speaking English will inevitably sound different than a person raised speaking French who learned English later in life. This does not mean that the non-native speaker has not mastered the language; it simply means that it sounds different to native speakers.
There are also regional differences within the United States. A person from Massachusetts typically sounds markedly different to a person from Texas, even though both are native English speakers. There are even more pronounced differences between English speaking countries such as Australia, England, and the United States. Differences between countries can also include different spellings of common words and using words in slightly different ways.
Potential Effects of Accents on Communication
One of the unusual aspects of speech therapy for accent modification is that having an accent is not a disorder. Accents are completely natural, and there is no one accent that is better or worse than any other accent. However, accents can interfere with effective communication for many reasons. Those around the speaker may have difficulty understanding what is being said in accented English. Secondary language learners sometimes begin to avoid social interactions due to their difficulty communicating, thus limiting their opportunities to practice their new language. Business, medical, and academic professionals may feel a need to minimize their foreign or regional accent to facilitate communication.
A speech language pathologist can help individuals learn to modify their speech. Actors frequently need to remove their native accent or adapt an accent which is very different from their own. This is one of the most common requests for accent modification. During sessions, patients will have their speech evaluated for pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, and stress by reading short passages and speaking in normal conversation. After this the speech therapist will determine what needs to be done modify the accent sufficiently and develop a list of goals. Therapy sessions will then begin and may be completed in a private or group setting.
Accent modification is not considered a speech or language disorder. Because of this, insurance will not pay for the services. It is not considered necessary for expressive or receptive language development. However, for those who feel their accent is limiting or defining them in ways they wish to change, accent modification can be a life changing service.