By Phyllis Mazurski, MS, CCC-SLP
Learning English as a second language is no easy task,
yet Tompkins County is full of people who have mastered our idiom-laden
language. Communicating successfully in spoken English, however, calls on an
entirely different set of skills related to pronunciation and speech patterns.
For this reason, individuals for whom English is a second language often find
it very helpful to participate in an accent
modification program, the goal of which is to make them more easily understood
when they speak American English.
What makes speaking American English more difficult
for some people than others?
One of the primary stumbling blocks for foreign
speakers is that many European and Eastern languages have only five vowel
sounds, but spoken English has more than twice that many. For example, the
vowel sound in the word “caught” is not found in many other languages. So when
foreign speakers use this word, they often make an inappropriate substitution
for the vowel sound that Americans do not understand when they hear it.
Who might find accent modification helpful?
Accent modification can be helpful to professors and
teaching assistants for whom lecturing in the classroom is a daily occurrence.
Research confirms that when students must struggle to understand their
teachers, students lose interest in the class.
For people in the world of business, miscommunication
can result in misunderstanding and lost revenues. When patients and doctors
have trouble understanding each other, it becomes difficult to follow doctors’
orders. Phone conversations, job interviews, and social interactions all suffer
from a lack of clear communication when accents make understanding difficult.
How does accent modification work?
Speech-language pathologists at Cayuga Medical Center
use a teaching approach called the Compton Pronouncing English as a Second
Language (or P-ESL) Method. The learning process begins with an analysis of the
individual’s speech patterns to identify areas in which his or her speech
sounds differ from those in American English. We then target those areas for
improvement and teach the client how to make changes and establish a new habit
of speaking. In the program, we emphasize pronunciation and voice projection
for conversations and presentations.
How much time is required for successful accent
The concept of modifying speech is simple but
achieving a new speech pattern takes time and lots of practice. Someone with a
relatively mild accent may accomplish his or her goals in a seven-week program.
A client with multiple sound differences will go into a thirteen-week program.
It takes time to develop any new habit and changing something as basic as the
way a person speaks can be especially challenging. Lessons are one-hour
sessions, offered once a week, at flexible times.
But what if I don’t want to lose my accent entirely?
The goal of accent modification is not to speak like
an American, but rather to become more intelligible to the communication
partner. While the Compton P-ESL Method guarantees a 50 percent or more change
in accent by the end of program for people who fully participate, clients still
retain some of their native accents.
Is accent modification covered by health insurance?
Accent modification programs are not typically covered
by health insurance; they are private-pay. However, schools and businesses
often have funds for professional development or continuing education available
to associates who want to improve their ability to be easily understood.
Tompkins County is rich in its cultural diversity and
that diversity contributes immeasurably to our quality of life. We know,
however, from our foreign speaking clients that they often suffer feelings of
isolation when listeners must struggle to understand them. Successful accent
modification can enhance the exchange of ideas and information that is so much
a part of life here in Tompkins County.
To find out more about accent modification or to
enroll in the Compton P-ESL Program at Cayuga Medical Center, please call (607)
274-4504. We’re happy to talk with you.
Mazurski, MS, CCC-SLP is a certified speech pathologist on staff in the
Department of Rehabilitation at Cayuga Medical Center.