As the global marketplace expands a new branch of English learning related to ESL has become very intriguing. This field is often called Accent Neutralization or Accent Reduction. The main purpose of accent neutralization / reduction is to help proficient English speakers speak with a more North American or British accent. The main cause of this trend towards accent neutralization / reduction is the demand created by outsourcing.
Outsourcing is generally defined as the transfer of components or large segments of an organization's internal infrastructure, staff, processes or applications to an external resource. The trend is towards outsourcing to countries where this work can be done at lower cost to the company. One of the most popular countries for outsourcing is India due to its wealth of highly educated English speakers. Accent neutralization / accent reduction comes into play when these workers speak to North Americans who have difficulties understanding their accents. Of course, the English spoken is excellent. The problem that arises is that many customers have difficulties understanding accents other than their own, hence accent neutralization or reduction becomes important for customer satisfaction.
Some find this trend distasteful. However, reading the fascinating book entitled "The World is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman, I came across the following passage that describes the general attitude towards accent modification:
... before you disparage it, you have to taste just how hungry these kids are to escape the lower end of the middle class and move up. If a little accent modification is the price they have to pay to jump a rung of the ladder, then so be it - they say.
As more and more tasks are outsourced, the more important "standard" North American English becomes to the young employees excitedly taking advantage of the new opportunities modern telecommunications and broadband access provide.
Common Techniques and Goals
Here are some of the common focus areas for accent neutralization or accent reduction classes:
- Changing speech patterns
- Voice production
- Intonation and rhythm
- Taking on a new North American "Personality" - I think is a great way to distance oneself from the more distasteful implications of accent reduction
The stated goals of many of these programs include:
- Changing regional accents to increase personal and professional opportunities
- Engaging in extensive conversations, presentations, and telephone calls
- Be more confident and effective, both socially and professionally - This must apply to English speakers living in North America!
- Improved professional image of your company
- Greater understanding from listeners
I can imagine some people thinking, "Well, it's a brave new world." I definitely agree!
To begin exploring accent reduction, AccentSchool provides free software to help students understand the fundamentals of why they have an accent and what they can do to improve.
By Kenneth Beare, About.com Guide