Accent Reduction: Good or Bad Idea?

Whether we like it or not, we are often judged by our accent. Not only do people make assumptions about English-speaking foreigners and second-language speakers, but they may also base their beliefs on nothing more than a regional accent—Southern accent, Bronx accent, and so on. 

Merely from the person’s accent, others think they know the speakers’ education level, socioeconomic status, and even political affiliations. These judgments can lead the accented speaker to seek coaching for accent reduction, accent modification, or total accent eradication. This is a bad idea.

The fact is everyone has an accent; there is no correct or right accent. In most cases, your accent that makes you memorable makes you stand out—your accent is part of your authentic identity. Your goal is not to get rid of it; your goal is to ensure you are understood.

Ask yourself the question: can the people around me understand what I am saying? If you notice looks of confusion, pleas to slow down, or requests to repeat yourself, it may be that your accent is undermining your message.

Listen to the strong speakers around you. Notice how they pronounce a word, their cadence (inflection of the voice), their pacing, and tone.  

When you speak, slow down and focus on enunciating each syllable. In private, practice words that you trip over. Record yourself. Keep practicing until you are confident in your pronunciation.

Remember, your aim is clear, coherent communication; anything that disrupts the listener’s understanding weakens your message. Let go of the idea you need to sound like everyone else and embrace the role of an effective communicator. Some of the greatest orators had—what some might regard as—an accent.