Home » Accent and Identity, prejudice and insecurity
I never paid attention to my own accent or that of the people around me until I watched a comedy movie in which an Indian accent was satirized.
One of my friends had taken admission in the premier language institute to get rid of his regional accent in 2012, a few years after he had moved to Delhi. Like many learners, he also believed that he needed to lose his native accent and speak in perfect RP if he wanted to be accepted in the corporate. For a few weeks, he used it regularly – 45 minutes every day. Was it working? It was certainly helping him out refine the way he would pronounce words and specific sounds. Then he got bored and his initial commitment faded away, so he is not sure whether it does the trick or not.
Learning English as a second language (ESL) students often state a desire to sound like native speakers. However, what they don’t know is that accents are an auditory clue to an individual’s background. From the first utterance of sound, accents tell others where a person is from, what language they speak.
Whether you love your accent or hate it, having one is an impeccable part of speaking. You pick up your accent without making any effort in childhood. However, once you become adult & on your journey to Learn standard, proper English, the task of replacing a native accent becomes more of a challenge.
Accent reduction is the most common terminology that people use when talking about improving pronunciation in the presence of a foreign accent.
What is an Accent?
An accent is a flavoring or coloring to your voice which – within the same language and dialects – sounds different in some consistent rule-governed way from another given accent. Or As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association described, an accent is a unique way that speech is pronounced by a group of people speaking the same language. Regional accents explain why an individual From London sounds much different than someone from New York.
The head of English language and communication, at the University of Hertfordshire Dr Christina Schelletter, says foreign accents come about as a combination of “non-native speakers trying to substitute their native sounds for non-equivalent sound in the target language,” and this results in a difference in stress, rhythm, and intonation among the two languages. “There are individual differences in terms of how strong an accent is, but overall, age and length of exposure of the second language very much contribute to the accent.
Why Losing an accent is an uphill task –
Smithsonian Magazine reported that accents are engraved into our brain as early as six months of age. The baby begins to draw a map of the sounds he hears, and “that map continues to develop and strengthen as the sounds are repeated … until eventually, they are almost ineradicable,” Patricia Kuhl, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington, explained to the online publication. At some point, we lose the ability to make certain sounds and, eventually, we lose the ability to even hear them, io9 reported. Thankfully, the human brain is incredibly adaptable, and with enough practice and concentration, the ear can be trained to pick up new accents as easily as the infant’s ear was able to.
Learning another language or some dialects of your own language implies assimilating specific speech and language characteristics of the second language or particular dialect. We need to retain a new pronunciation, increase our vocabulary, including grammatical structures, and educate ourselves with other social forms of expression inherent to the other culture.
Reducing the accent not only refers to improving the pronunciation of the sound system of a particular language but also means learning idioms, regionalisms, intonation, and gestures, among other resources, that bring us closer to the other culture.
Regardless of the amount of speech exposure, the success with which an individual is able to lose an old accent and adopt a new one differs largely from person to person. Schelletter explained that this may have something to do with “musicality.” Learning a new speech accent requires “tuning in to the sounds, stress, and intonation of the other language,” she said. This is why adopting a different accent for a language you are fluent in is easier than adopting an accent for a foreign language.
Schelletter also suggests musicality may explain why some people are better able to lose their accents than others. For those who are truly determined to trade one accent in for another, accent modification classes are available. These classes are focused on changing sound pronunciation and stress, rhythm, and intonation of speech, and also helping the student with appropriate word choice.
Don’t lose your identity –
Our accents are a sizable part of what defines us. regional accents are bound up with ‘identity, the social influences you have around you and your aspirations – what you want for your children,’ notes Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading.
All of us speak with an accent that identifies us, and losing accent is often equated with losing an identity, culture.
70 most commonly mispronounced words even by advanced learners of English.