People often ask me what the difference is between accent modification and accent reduction. My answer is there is no difference. Both of these terms, accent reduction and accent modification, describe the process of learning the local accent. In recent years there has been a shift toward using accent modification as the preferred term in the speech therapist community as we realized that “accent reduction” was not as accurate as “accent modification.” When you "reduce" one's accent, you are replacing it with another accent. An accent, a manner of pronouncing sounds within a region, is a geographical imprint of where you speak - like a stamp in your [phonetic] passport. Accent modification is metaphorically akin to adding another stamp. If you attend speech therapy in Toronto for accent modification, you will likely be changing your accent to a Southern Ontario Canadian English accent.
This accent modification or reduction process has been subject to controversy and scrutiny in the past. News articles have told stories of people who refused to attend “accent reduction” classes that their employer requested. People's accents and their sense of Self are deeply tied together. Some people feel that their speech is their identity, and others wish to reinvent. I appreciate both perspectives. The name “accent reduction” can be particularly triggering for clients who are undecided and sensitive about the idea.
I've worked with clients whose motivations vary across the identity-accent spectrum. There are many cases of of clients wanting to embrace the challenge of matching their speech to their new region:
"I just don't want to sound Russian anymore. I feel Canadian, and I want how I speak to match now I feel." - Real Client, 2016
In contrast, some clients feel accent modification is disloyal to their homeland. A client of mine, a strong and successful woman, tearfully decided to end accent modification work because she didn't want to "lose home".
Most clients, however, are more moderate in their feelings towards their accents. They want to learn the Canadian accent, pronounce words in the Torontonian-way, and retain parts of their original accent. In fact, many clients want to be able to switch accents between their original accent when they are speaking with family and friends - and keep their "standardized" accent for professional purposes.
The duration of our work depends on your goals. As described above, clients differ vastly in their needs for accent training. The rule of thumb below can help you understand the commitment when considering this type of voice work:
1-2 SOUNDS = 8-12 WEEKLY SESSIONS ON AVERAGE
For example, if the only difference between your accent and the local accent is the way you pronounce TH and short I, then you can roughly expect ten weeks until your speech goal is achieved.
I would be cautious about programs that promise permanent accent change within two to eight sessions. If an expert skips fundamental concepts, without allowing time for deep learning, then it very likely that you will regress back into old habits within a few weeks.
During the time that we spend on accent modification, we will progress through four main phases of therapy: assessment, awareness, productions, and generalization.
During the assessment phase, we will determine the sounds or speech patterns that mark your original accent. We will discuss your goals and formulate a plan of action or treatment plan.
During the awareness phase, we will train you to hear the difference between your way of saying the sound and the local way.
During the productions phase, we will systematically work to reinforce muscle memory of the new, local, way of pronouncing a sound from very short words to 30-minute long conversations in session.
Lastly, during the generalization phase, we will track and troubleshoot how well you are using the new sound in your real life.
Many of my clients have coverage through their extended health insurance to cover the services of a speech-language pathologist. At Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy, we are registered with the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario, and we can help you prepare your claim for accent modification services should you want to meet us to discuss your needs.