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How good is your British accent? How good does it need to be?
Posted on: 17/06/2014 by Akiko
For many people, the correct use of grammar and a broad range of vocabulary is the be all and end all when learning English. Unfortunately, communicating effectively involves much more than the right words and tenses: accent and pronunciation play a key role.
We like accent - it adds character and identity to our speech, but in certain situations we need to make ourselves understandable to our listeners. Whether we like it or not, people make judgements based on the way we communicate; you may have a perfect grasp of grammar, but if you pay no attention to your accent and pronunciation you can come across as abrupt or even rude to your listener when in fact you mean nothing of the sort. In short, your professional success may depend on how effective your speaking skills are.
On Friday, one of the teachers of our Voice and Accent training, Dolly, demonstrated her voice training techniques for a London-based TV show. Our Chief Executive, Timothy Blake, then took part in a debate on the importance of accents live on their lunchtime news bulletin. The show is called Headline London and you can see Timothy and Dolly here:
The debate focused on the importance – or not – of altering your accent. Dolly says, 'Accent is not an issue, we all have completely different rhythms and movements on our speech because of our mother tongues or where we are from. So there is no need to get rid of the accent at all; it's a part of us. What makes good, successful communication is the issue. We can practice on how to deliver the speech, by working on clarity, stress, pitch variation or melody, connection etc.'
As a non-native English speaker myself, I'm very interested in how our Voice Trainers use the science behind the production of speech to alter accent and pronunciation. For example, I found it difficult to physically produce certain sounds in English because I don't use certain muscles when I speak Japanese. However, by understanding the differences between the two languages, I am able to improve the melody of my speech. Knowing the theory helps me to feel more confident when I speak English.
Dolly explains, 'we cannot swim in the position of playing tennis. Speaking different languages is the same; you need to allow yourself to find a new shape of your mouth to suit to the different languages'.
This is true. In Japanese, the 'shape' is very flat compared to standard speech patterns in English, because Japanese isn't a tonal language. In fact, it would be difficult for you to understand me in English if I spoke with the same melody as in Japanese. But by physically changing the shape of my mouth, I am able to improve my British accent. I've heard that continued and sustained work on you accent can actually change the shape of your face over time! This makes sense as you are essentially exercising different muscle groups in your face.
Having taken part in Voice and Accent training sessions, it was amazing to hear the difference after just one hour. Small tips can improve our communication skills dramatically.
If you're interested in doing just that, why not contact us to enquire about voice training.
the be all and end all (idiom) – the most important, or only, factor
come across as (phr.vb) – to appear or seem
nothing of the sort (fixed exp) – an emphatic way of denying an earlier statement
clarity (n) – easy to hear
stress (n) – emphasis in speech
pitch variation (adj.+n) – the range of sound from low to high
melody (n) – the rhythm of a collection of sounds
connection (n) – in speech, the merging of two sounds into one when speaking
sustained (adj) – continuing without interruption for a period of time
essentially (adv) – used to emphasise the main point