Accent Reduction Lessons
Charles Becker  
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  What Exactly is an Accent?


What is an Accent ?

What exactly do we mean by the word accent ?

Essentially, an accent is the process by which a speaker substitutes a sound from their native language for a sound from English. This “transference” occurs mainly for two reasons.

The first reason is that the speaker is not aware that a specific sound exists in English. Hence, they use the closest sound from their native language instead.

For example, many students are unaware of the sound /I/ as in the word "chip" or "big." As a result, when saying the word "chip",they substitute a similar sound which exists in their native language. Usually, they choose /i/ as in the word "see or meet".

So a word like "chip" ends up sounding like "cheap" and there it is , an accent -not to mention some confusion in mid -conversation.

The second reason a speaker substitutes the wrong sound is that he or she may simply find it too difficult to pronounce the correct sound.

For example, many students are aware of the sound /th/ as in think or that. However the articulation of the sound is just too difficult or feels unnatural The result is that /th/ is pronounced like /s/ /z/ or /d/.

The word "that", may sound like “zat” or “ dat”. The student chooses /z/ or /d/ because it's easier and “close enough.”

Another element of an accent is incorrect intonation.

English has a melody. You have to become aware of the intonation patterns of English. Don't worry. They are simple patterns and you don't have to have musical training or a musical ear to learn them. Anybody can do it. It doesn't involve specific pitches – just knowing when and how to raise your pitch and to lower it.

Finally, some people have accents because they put the stress in the wrong places of words and sentences.

For example instead of saying convince

They might say: convince

This can be very confusing for a listener. But there are simple rules to guide you when you're not sure.

Once you learn the rules, it gets easier and the stress patterns start to become second nature. 

Other aspects of an accent include not connecting sounds and vocal quality such as nasality. These can all be corrected with the right training exercises.