Top Tips for Accent Reduction

How can you help over two hundred learners with pronunciation in real time?

This was the fun challenge I faced at my latest live stream. These public events are very large, and I can only invite a handful of students to join me on camera one at a time. Nevertheless, I get a sense from the comments and my gut when a session is productive for everyone.

The topic I targeted this week was accent reduction and tips for improving one’s pronunciation. What steps did I make sure to take?

The first step is to set a proper mindset with realistic expectations.
After an initial Q&A segment, I launched into the main lesson with a short quiz asking learners to explain what accent reduction is. We established that it wasn’t about eliminating a foreign accent in English, but rather it was about decreasing the influence of the first language in order to achieve clearer and more natural speech. In my opinion, the only ones who need to perfect a certain accent convincingly are actors. That’s why Hollywood has dialect coaches. My job as an ESL teacher is different. Clear, confident speech is what I help students achieve.

The second step is to demonstrate incremental improvements, not miracles. 
The live streams I’ve been doing allow me to bring one student on camera for a short period of time. In those 4-7 minutes, we can work on a bite-size piece of text and focus on one element in particular, such as linking or rhythm. There’s a lot of repetition, and I don’t end the “hop on” until my own ears detect increased accuracy and I’ve given enough encouragement to boost the learner’s confidence. Each student performance inspires the next person to hop on and try.

The third step is to make sure there’s take-away in terms of content and strategies.
During the live stream, I used a couple of tongue twisters, several proverbs, and a few positive quotes. I relied on students to type everything in the text chat, so everyone had a record of what we practiced. Each hop on was a model of how to practice independently. I advised students to use a voice recorder for self-evaluation. I recommended use of video if one’s mouth position was an in issue with a problematic sound like /θ/.

We covered these basic tips:
– Don’t rush.
– Pause in the right places: learn to group your thoughts.
– Link words within thought groups.
– Learn to stress key words.
– Learn to repeat intonation patterns.

The fourth step is to remind students of the resources they can use to study and practice independently.  I had previously given live streams on linking and intonation, so there were recordings I could direct students to if they needed to work on a particular aspect of their pronunciation. I also mentioned specific YouTube playlists, learner’s dictionaries, and YouGlish. Learners need to know where to find answers and get more models.

Got your own favorite tips? Please share.

Related post: A realistic path toward accent reduction (2019)

Featured photo by 34680. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/smile-mouth-teeth-laugh-nose-191626/.

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