How effective is accent reduction - does it work? A review of the evidence

How effective is accent reduction - does it work? A review of the evidence

You might be wondering, how effective is accent reduction training? does it work? Or maybe you are wondering could an accent reduction program work for me?

Well, just like you I am interested in finding the quickest and most effective ways to help my clients to achieve their goals to speak English clearly and accelerate their careers.

When it comes to accent reduction or accent modification, much of the research demonstrating its effectiveness has historically come from English-as-a-second-language classrooms. This is in contrast to the typical clients seen by Speech Pathologists, who are generally highly proficient in English and almost exclusively seen individually or in small groups.

In addition to evidence from the field of teaching, more and more research is emerging from Speech Language Pathologists showing that accent reduction classes can be effective for individuals from a range of language backgrounds who want to learn English pronunciation to improve their fluency and ‘comprehensibility’ or ease with which listeners understand their speech.

When it comes to accent reduction the research shows improvements can be made to the accuracy and comprehensibility of people with an accent. We ALL have an accent and therefore rather than ‘reducing’ or helping people ‘lose’ their accents Speech Pathologists help to train people to ‘add’ a new accent to use when speaking English to enhance their ability to get their message across.

Of course individual factors influence the success of accent reduction, these can include:

  • Motivation
  • Language-learning aptitude
  • Quantity of formal lessons and practise
  • Age of acquisition of English and quality of instruction

Researchers have demonstrated that accent reduction classes can be effective; see below a summary of some of the findings from research to date:

Franklin et. al. (2016) demonstrated in their study an improvement in the pronunciation of vowels as measured by native speakers following 16, 45 minute sessions targeting 6-8 vowels each time.

Anderson-Hseieh (1990) documented significant improvement in the prosody of Chinese and Korean teaching assistants after completing a semester of accent reduction classes focusing on English intonation exercises to target the correct use of prosody (word stress, rhythm and intonation).

Linebaugh and Roche (2013) found that after delivering pronunciation training using contrasting word pairs (minimal pairs) the participants ability to hear the difference between the words improved.

Behrman’s research conducted in 2014 found training in both prosody and pronunciation of consonants, improved the accuracy of their participants English pronunciation. They also found listeners rated the Hindi speakers accents as easier to understand and that these improvements were maintained over the short term.

In 2017 Behrman also demonstrated changes in the degree of ‘accentedness’ and ease of understanding of Spanish speakers who undertook intensive training twice a week for 5 weeks.

A metanalysis of 75 pronunciation studies conducted by Thomson and Derwing (2015) concluded that ‘explicit instruction of phonological forms can have a significant impact, likely because it orients learners’ attention to phonetic information, which promotes learning in a way that naturalistic input does not.’

Derwing and Rossiter (2003) examined the results of students who received three different types of English pronunciation training (phoneme, prosody and no instruction). Results indicate that both groups receiving phoneme and prosody instruction were easier to understand by the conclusion of the semester however the students who received the phoneme instruction targeting specific consonants and vowels were perceived as having less ‘accentedness’ than the others.

Freysteinson et al. (2016) found that a group of overseas born health professionals (health care administrators, nursing students and registered nurses) reported significantly higher self-esteem and overall competence communicating with others after completing a 12 week accent reduction program.

Fritz and Sikorski in (2013) found an overall improvement in the intelligibility (their ability to produce clear speech) and confidence scores achieved by the 167 Korean-speaking participants in their study. Participants who improved the most were those who had the best comprehension of English and ability to hear differences in production (auditory discrimination).

In (2016) Brady and colleagues found improvements in the production of vowel sounds targeted in training, compared to those, which were not explicitly taught.

Khurana et. Al. (2013) investigated the efficacy of accent modification for international Medical graduates (overseas trained doctors) and international medical researchers. Training focused on the pronunciation of phonemes and prosody. The results showed that training was highly effective in improving participant’s ability to pronounce words, syllable stress and use of facial expression and body language.

Lee et. Al. (2013) showed Korean speakers were able to improve the accuracy of their pronunciation of English after receiving 60 minutes of weekly training for 8 weeks using either word contrasts (minimal pairs) or phoneme instruction.

Saito (2011) demonstrated that Japanese learners were able to greatly improve their intelligibility (how well native speakers could understand them) through instruction to modify their pronunciation of phonemes.

In 2013 Mckee reviewed several studies before reiterating the importance of providing training with a focus on prosodic elements such as intonation rather than just individual phonemes such as consonants and vowels.

Useful references

Anderson-Hsieh, J. (1990). Teaching suprasegmentals to international teaching assistants using field-specific materials. English for Specific Purposes, 9, 195-214.

Anderson-Hsieh, J., Johnson, R., & Koehler, K. (2006). The relationship between native speaker judgments of nonnative pronunciation and deviance in segmentals, prosody, and syllable structure. Language Learning, 42(4), 529-555.

Barb, C. (2005). Suprasegmentals and comprehensibility: A comparative study in accent modification (Doctoral dissertation, Wichita State University).

Behrman, A. (2014). Segmental and Prosodic Approaches to Accent Management. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology 2014 23(4): 546-561

Behrman, A. (2017). A Clear Speech Approach to Accent Management. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, November 2017, Vol. 26, 1178-1192.

Brady, K., Duewer, N & King, A. (2016). The effectiveness of a multimodal vowel-targeted intervention in accent modification. Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders, 43, 23-34.

Breitkreutz, J., Derwing, T. M., & Rossiter, M. J. (2009). Pronunciation teaching practices in Canada. TESL Canada Journal, 19(1), 51-61.

Brown, A. (1995). Minimal pairs: minimal importance?. ELT Journal, 49(2), 169-175.

Carr. (2012). Improving communication through accent modification: growing the nursing workforce. Journal of Cultural Diversity 19(3):79-84.

Chakraborty, R., Domsch, C. & Gonzales, M. (2011). Articulatory behaviors of nonnative speakers: Role of L2 proficiency and accent modification.Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(1), 311-330.

Compton, A. (2002). Compton Phonological Assessment of Foreign Accent. San Francisco, CA: Carousel House.

Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (1997). Accent, intelligibility, and comprehensibility. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19(1), 1-16.

Derwing, T. M., Munro, M. J., & Wiebe, G. (1998). Evidence in favor of a broad framework for pronunciation instruction. Language Learning, 48(3), 393-410.

Derwing, T. M., & Rossiter, M. J. (2003). The effects of pronunciation instruction on the accuracy, fluency, and complexity of L2 accented speech. Applied Language Learning, 13(1), 1- 17.

Flege, J. E. (1995). Second language speech learning: Theory, findings, and problems. Speech perception and linguistic experience: Issues in cross-language research, 233-277.

Franklin, AD & Stoel-Gammon C. (2016). Using multiple measures to document change in English vowels produced by Japanese, Korean, and Spanish speakers: the case for goodness and intelligibility. American Journal Speech Language Pathology. 23(4):625-40

Fraser, H., & Perth, H. (1999). ESL pronunciation teaching: Could it be more effective? Australian Language Matters, 7(4), 7-8.

Freysteinson, W.M., Adams, J., Cesario, S., Belay, H., Clutter, P., Du, J., Duson, B., Goff, M., McWilliams, L., Nurse, R., Allam, Z. (2016). An accent modification program, Journal of Professional Nursing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2016.11.003

Fritz, D., & Sikorski, L. (2013). Efficacy in accent modification services: Quantitative and qualitative outcomes for Korean speakers of American English. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20, 118–126. doi:10.1044/cds20.3.118

Hahn, L. D. (2004). Primary Stress and Intelligibility: Research to Motivate the Teaching of Suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38(2), 201-223.

Jenkins, J. (2004). Research in teaching pronunciation and intonation. Annual review of applied linguistics, 24(109-125).

Ji, A., Berry, J. J., & Johnson, M. T. (2014, May). The Electromagnetic Articulography Mandarin Accented English (EMA-MAE) corpus of acoustic and 3D articulatory kinematic data. In Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), 2014 IEEE International Conference on Acoustic, Speech and Signal Processing (pp. 7719-7723). IEEE.

Kerr, J. O. A. N. (2000). Articulatory setting and voice production: Issues in accent modification. Prospect- Adelaide-, 15(2), 4-15.

Khurana, P., Huang, E. Efficacy of accent modification training for international medical professionals. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice. 2013;10 (Retrieved from)

http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/

Lee, S. & Sancibrian, S. (2013). Effectiveness of two different approaches to accent modification services for non-native English speakers of Korean background. Perspectives on Communication Disorders & Sciences in Culturally Diverse Populations, 20 (3), 127-136.

Linebaugh, G & Roche, T 2013, ‘Learning to hear by learning to speak: the effect of articulatory training on Arab learners’ English phonemic discrimination’, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 146-159.

Lu, J., Wang, R., & Silva, L. (2012). Automatic stress exaggeration by prosody modification to assist language learners perceive sentence stress. International Journal Of Speech Technology, 15(2), 87-98.

McKee, R (2013). In adult second language speakers of English seeking accent modification, can intervention based on suprasegmental features (i.e. prosody) be more effective than segmental features (consonants, vowels) in modifying foreign accents/improving positive speech characteristics? M.Cl.Sc (SLP) Candidate University of Western Ontario: School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M. (1995). Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 49(1), 285-310.

Munro, M. (1998). The effects of noise on the intelligibility of foreign accented speech. Studies in Second Language Learning, 20, 139–154.

Ojakangas, C. (2013). Viewpoint: What brain research can tell us about accent modification. SIG 14 Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20, 101-108.

Kazuya Saito (2011) Examining the role of explicit phonetic instruction in native-like and comprehensible pronunciation development: an instructed SLA approach to L2 phonology,Language Awareness, 20:1, 45-59, DOI: doi.org

Schmidt, A. (1997). Working with adult foreign accent: Strategies for intervention. Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders (24).

Schmidt, A. M., & Sullivan, S. (2003). Clinical training in foreign accent modification: A national survey. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 30, 127-135.

Schwartz, S. (2004). The Source for Voice Disorders: Adolescents and Adults. East Moline, IL: Linguasystems.Sikorski, L. (1991). Proficiency in Oral English Communication Manual. Santa Ana, CA: LDS & Associates.

Sikorski, L. D. (2005a). POEC Screen: Proficiency in Oral English Communication Screening Version manual. Santa Ana, CA:LDS & Associates.

Sikorski, L. (2005b). Regional accents: A rationale for intervening and competencies required. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26(2), 118-125.

Tajima, K., & Port, R.DalbyJ. (1997). Effects of temporal correction on intelligibility of foreign-accented english. Journal of Phonetics, 25(1), 10-24.

Thomson, R. & Derwing, T. (2015). The effectiveness of L2 Pronunciation instruction: A narrative review. Applied Linguistics, 36 (3), 326-344.

Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2012). Disentangling accent from comprehensibility. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15(4), 905–916.

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4 Comments
  1. Dear Danwyn, thank you for this brilliant summary! I don’t think I have even looked at journal articles for research on effects of accent reduction, and you did such a fabulous job!
    Do you mind if I share your content ( and reference you of course), on my own website?

    1. Hi Thila,
      Thank you so much, of course you are welcome to repost this content 🙂

  2. Excellent evidence! Many in the world of ESL feel that this type of class is a waste of time.

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