June 05, 2007

accent reduction

If Henry Higgins met Eliza Doolittle today, it would be at an Accent Reduction Institute. From an article in the New York Times:
Mr. Petukhov, a Moscow native who works for the law firm of Kaye Scholer as a scientific adviser, [...] is one of many educated non-native English speakers working in the United States who take voice training and accent reduction to improve presentations, workshops and everyday conversations with their American-born co-workers.

Mr. Petukhov’s accent coach, Jennifer Pawlitschek, [...] contended that the term accent reduction is a misnomer. “Accent reduction is learning an accent. It is learning an American accent.”

Another coach, Brian Loxley, [...] said speaking English correctly allows “people to look at you like you’re a leader and your ideas count.” His clients, he explained, are “educated and brilliant people but they’re having trouble making themselves understood.” [...]

Often trained as actors, some coaches use techniques they learned to reduce regional American accents or to affect foreign accents. Ms. Pawlitschek teaches clients jaw exercises and muscle relaxation to reduce “a tightness in the jaw that nasalizes the sound.” Her exercises focus on mouth muscles, and her clients listen to themselves from recordings and practice speaking in front of mirrors. Mr. Loxley uses similar techniques. [...]

Training fees and duration vary. At the Accent Reduction Institute, group training begins at about $40 an hour a person, and individual training at $100 an hour, with additional fees for materials. What Ms. Ravin calls Webinars can cost as little as $20 an hour, and clients “can dial in from anywhere in the world and have a live presentation.” She believes “people should expect results quickly, after 10 to 15 hours.”

Ms. Pawlitschek charges from $75 an hour for semiprivate lessons and $100 to $125 an hour for private. Some clients have seen her for years, and she says she believes that developing the proper “kinesthetic skill” takes time “so the muscles will default into position.” [...]

Of course, not everyone sees an accent as something negative. Ms. Pawlitschek said that particularly for her clients from the United Nations, “there is a lot of strong feeling there about the validity of all accents and dialects,” and the emphasis is on “pronunciation.” Mr. Loxley said that people once viewed accent reduction as “an attack on heritage,” but that is less the case now.

Fortunately, in my line of work, you can speak with an accent and still have your ideas count.

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