Can You Change Your Accent?



Written by: Melissa James / Accent / December 7th, 2017

Accents are fascinating. They represent a piece of someone's identity and cultural background. 

Sometimes, though, accents can make communication more difficult. We encounter many clients who - for a variety of reasons, whether personally or professionally - want to work to communicate as clearly as possible. Many wish to sound as "local" as they feel. 

Speech-language pathologists play a big part in reducing or modifying an accent. 


What is an accent?

The non-native pronunciation of English is what people often refer to as an accent. This occurs when speakers of other languages carry the intonation, speech sounds, and rules of pronunciation from their native language(s) into speaking English. That is why people who share the same native languages and dialects tend to pronounce English similarly.  It is important to note that no accent is better than another, and accents are not considered a speech or language disorder. Nevertheless, in Canada many individuals seek to modify their accent to approximate that of native English speakers for many reasons, including:

  • Being easily understood by others in everyday professional and/or social situations

  • Not having to repeat certain words all the time

  • Noticing that others are distracted by your accent

  • Sensing negative attitudes as a result of an accent

  • Wanting to sound as “local” as you feel

Any of the above concerns can lead a person to avoid speaking and/or experience frequent communication breakdowns, which can negatively affect their self-esteem, social life, and ability to perform optimally in their academic and/or professional lives.

Studying linguistics has enabled me to think about languages in more abstract ways. This is essential to being able to truly appreciate all of the differences that may exist between one language or accent and another.
— Daniel Boyle B.A., M.H.Sc

What is the difference between accent reduction and accent modification?

The idea of accent reduction is essentially ethnocentric. It presupposes that our own accent is "neutral" and that the other accent must be reduced to get back to the neutral, pure, or best accent. To train someone in accent therapy, you are adjusting their original accent to match (usually) your accent. Simply put, through this process one would be replacing the original accent (e.g., Cork accent) with a new accent (e.g., Toronto accent) and this is more appropriately called accent modification or accent adjustment.

accent modification

A certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) can act as a coach to help you detect and modify aspects of your speech that contribute to your accent. Your SLP will work with you to modify the production of specific speech sounds, the stress patterns of words, and the intonation of your speech. If necessary, the SLP will also incorporate strategies for increasing the clarity of your overall speech, such as speaking more slowly with more marked articulation. Home practice in-between session is essential to success.

Can you improve your pronounciation?

In short, the answer is yes. With practice and motivation it is possible to make changes to your speech. The extent to which your accent will change varies greatly across individuals, and there are no evidence-based rules regarding how much change will occur or how fast.

Why Well Said: Toronto Speech Therpy?

The knowledgable and warm speech-language pathologists at our Toronto-based specialty clinic are experienced in providing accent reduction services to professionals and soon-to-be professionals from a linguistically diverse and multicultural population. We deliver these services in a safe, comfortable, and adult-oriented environment.

Daniel Boyle, one of our wonderful speech-language pathologist shares, "as a self-professed language nerd, I’m constantly seeking out new and interesting linguistic knowledge. It’s why I love working with accents. From French to Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and Kinyarwanda, every language I’ve studied has been a rabbit hole full of surprises that has taught me more about language and the world itself."

Interested in accent modification services?