During the Spring 2015 semester, I was involved in the Robbins Speech, Language and Hearing Center’s Accent Modification Lab along with my classmate, Lindsay Lueders G’15 and our clinical supervisor, Marie Rimshaw, M.S., CCC-SLP. We held weekly group sessions with six Emerson College graduate students in the Integrated Marketing Program, who hailed from Taiwan, China, and Saudi Arabia. They all spoke fluent English, but wished to modify their accents to be better understood by future employers, potential clients, new friends, and community members.
I had a wonderful semester getting to know the group members and helping them improve their pronunciation of Mainstream American English (MAE). I also enjoyed how much the experience made me think about my own accent and all the rules I subconsciously follow to speak my native language. I realized just how much there was to remember and I was very impressed with our group members as they improved each week and asked insightful questions about how to say certain words and phrases.
We made clear to our group members that accent modification is not about completely getting rid of one’s accent – different accents are wonderful and interesting! Accent modification is about learning the rules and patterns of another language and practicing that pronunciation and intonation so that one can be understood more easily.
In our group, we specifically worked on syllable stress and word stress to produce MAE intonation. For example, there are words in English that are spelled the same, but if emphasis is placed on the first syllable, (e.g., produce) the word is a noun, but if emphasis is placed on the second syllable (e.g., produce) the word is a verb. We also practiced using word stress to convey meaning (e.g., “Did you know he liked her?” versus “Did you know he liked her?”), convey emotion (e.g., “…really?” “Really.” “Really?!”), and ask questions clearly (e.g., “Do you like it?” “Why do you like it?”).
Using MAE intonation was something that all our group members were looking to improve, and something that was fun to work on together in a group setting and conversational context. The Robbins Center also offers accent modification in an one-on-one setting, which is better for working on the individual sounds used in MAE and focusing on the sounds that each individual client wants to work on.
For more information about Accent Modification, please contact the Robbins Center. You can also read this informational page from the American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA): http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Accent-Modification/
This guest post was written by graduate student Sarah Cucuzzo ’15 (pictured in photo above)