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Accent Modification Program Increases Communication

Accent Modification Program Makes Understanding Easier
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 modification?
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.


The Speech-Language Pathology Department at Cayuga Medical Center is staffed by certified speech pathologists Kari Hall, MS, CCC-SLP and Laura Staley, MS, CCC-SLP. Both offer accent modification training. Kari is certified to provide both the short and long Compton P-ESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) programs.









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