Communication barriers are social barriers
Many people who grow up speaking languages other than English bring sounds and pronunciation habits from those languages into their English speech. Unfortunately, most of us make assumptions about people based on their accent, often without even realising. This can mean people with non-native accents are not given the same opportunities as those with standard accents. A strong foreign accent can make communication difficult, reducing productivity at work, restricting social networks, and limiting a person’s potential.
Pronunciation and prosody
In accent modification coaching, a trained phonetician shows you how to shape your mouth and move your tongue to produce the basic speech sounds like a native speaker. They also work with you on rhythm and intonation patterns to help you sound more natural. You will become easier to understand, and will understand others more easily, leading to smoother conversations and better relationships.
Fluency and influence
The easier you are to understand, the more people will listen to your ideas. The more similar you sound to them, the less ‘social distance’ there is between you, and the more they will trust and value your input. As your colleagues and clients appreciate you more, your confidence and influence will grow.
Culture and communication
Are people in your culture direct or indirect? Do you show respect by looking a person in the eye when they speak, or by looking away? Is it a compliment or a criticism to say how expensive your friend’s clothes look? Having good vocabulary and grammar isn’t enough to communicate well across cultures – you also need to learn what people think is appropriate, and how they communicate apart from their words.
Listening and speaking
Communication is a two-way street. This Psychology Today article calls on native speakers to listen better, and urges organisations to “increase awareness and reduce bias.” But increased understanding, acceptance and inclusion of a wider variety of accents will take time. In the meantime, we can help you speak and relate more like the people around you do, so that your voice is better heard, starting now!
Frequently asked questions
Are you anti-accent?
Not at all! We love the diversity of languages and accents. Everyone has an accent, and it is a unique part of their story. But if someone feels like their accent is holding them back from flourishing, we’re willing to help them adapt.
Are you trained Speech Pathologists?
No, we are phoneticians. Speech pathologists are the experts on all kinds of communication disorders. A foreign accent is not a disorder, but a carry-over from the normal patterns of speech in a different language. If you can speak your own language fluently, you probably don’t need a speech pathologist, though some speech pathologists also do accent modification.
What are Phoneticians?
Phoneticians study speech sounds – how they are produced and perceived (phonetics) and how they pattern together in individual languages (phonology). A phonetician can help you distinguish and articulate the sounds that you find difficult to hear and pronounce. A phonetician will figure out how the sound system(s) of your dominant language(s) are influencing your English, so they can work with you on systemic issues, not just individual sounds or words.
Who can benefit from accent modification?
Anyone who is having difficulty communicating or is feeling disadvantaged because of their accent can benefit from accent modification coaching – even native speakers of a different variety of English. It’s never too late – whether you’re just starting to learn English, or have lived in Australia for 30 years, if you’re ready to work, we’re ready to help!
Can you help with other languages too?
Yes! Whether you are struggling with pronunciation in English or any other language, we can help you get the sounds right, even without knowing the language ourselves, and even before you start learning it, if necessary. We have helped people produce the guttural sounds of Kurdish and Arabic, the implosives of Hausa and Khmer, the fricatives of French and Polish, the ‘rolled r’ of Russian and Spanish, the tones of Thai, the clicks of Xhosa … and the sounds of many other well-known and lesser-known languages.
What are accent modification sessions like?
Sessions are usually one hour per week (two hours the first week), and are tailored to suit your goals. This might mean doing some exercises to help you produce a few sounds you struggle with, or working on particular phrases or vocabulary you need for work, or doing rhythm and intonation practice to make your speech flow better. We will demonstrate and explain how different sounds are made in your mouth, and how to modify them.
What is my commitment?
To work on two or three issues you should commit to at least four sessions, with daily practice at home in between sessions. Beyond that, the number of sessions will depend on how hard you work, and how close to native you want to sound!
Are sessions individual or in classes?
Accent modification coaching is most effective one-to-one. However, if you have a friend or a group from the same language background (i.e. with the same accent) we can teach you together.
How much does it cost?
Standard rate: $150/hr
Group and SILA partner rates available on request.
Are sessions online or in person?
It is important for us to see and hear each other in person, at least to start with. Depending on what you are working on, it may be possible for follow-up sessions to be done over Zoom.
Sessions are run on the campus of SIL Australia in Kangaroo Ground, 25 kilometres north-east of Melbourne’s CBD. Click here for a map.
If you are outside the greater Melbourne area, we can discuss doing all sessions via Zoom, but this is not recommended.
For corporate workshops and group training, we can come to you.
Contact us for more information or to arrange your first session.
Meet your coach: Philip Swan
Philip has 35 years’ experience tutoring – first in music, then in linguistics and language learning. He has taught children and adults of English and non-English speaking backgrounds.
From childhood travels overseas to undergraduate studies in ethnomusicology through to working with an indigenous Papuan community developing a writing system for their language, Philip has always been fascinated by cultural and linguistic diversity.
Between 2009 and 2019 he lived in Indonesia, where he experienced the struggles and thrills of communicating in four new languages, and enjoyed the challenge of adopting and adapting to different accents in different provinces.
Since 2008 Philip has been teaching Phonetics and Phonology (the study of speech sounds, and how sounds fit together in different languages), and preparing cross-cultural workers to produce foreign sounds and minimise their own accent when they learn new languages overseas.
He holds the following qualifications:
Master of Applied Linguistics (University of New England, Armidale NSW)
Graduate Diploma in Language Description & Development (SIL Australia, Melbourne)
Bachelor of Theology (Moore Theological College, Sydney)
Bachelor of Music (Hons) (The University of Sydney)