Can I eliminate my accent completely?
Yes. It will probably take some hard, concentrated work, but it can be done. Actors do this all the time; they take on the accent of the character they are playing. Rather than losing your accent, you are acquiring a new style of speech, which is known as Standard American Speech. Much like an actor does, you can code-switch between your present way of speaking and the new style of speech. Eventually you may feel more comfortable with the new style of speech and use it more often.
How long will it take to reduce or eliminate my accent?
The exact time depends on many factors: how strong your present accent is; how similar your native language is to English; how motivated you are to change; how hard you work, and how often you work — one session per week with daily drills or a more intensive two or three sessions per week with drilling several times a day. However, the average time is about twenty weeks of solid work — seeing a voice and speech coach at least once a week and working hard every day.
Am I too old to change my accent?
No. While it is true that young children often learn languages and how to speak them with greater ease than adults, persons of any age can learn to speak a language correctly and with the proper accent.
When I lose my accent and speak Standard American Speech, will I also lose my individuality and sound just like everyone else who learns to speak well?
No. Each person’s voice is very unique in the subtle ways in which it resonates. This is why people within the same family — a father and son, for example — will often sound very much alike. This is also why you can usually recognize the voice of another person instantly — even over the telephone and after a long absence. Voice prints can be read and used much as finger prints in identifying a person. These highly unique and individual characteristics of the human voice are cultivated and highlighted in voice training. The goal is to bring out your best voice.
Isn't an accent actually attractive?
Occasionally a foreign accent may suggest mystery, sensuality, and worldly experience. This, however, depends on the particular accent, on those listening, on the other nonverbal attributes of the speaker, and on the specific context. For example, a film star with a heavy French accent may appear to be sexy and exotic. However, most of us do not impress people with our foreign or regional accents. More likely, there may be — unfortunately — a prejudice against the particular accent. At its worst, people are merely misunderstood, and communicating becomes a struggle rather than a pleasure. Further, every language — including English — is a beautiful language when spoken well. An accent often blocks both the natural beauty of the English language as well as the full potential of one’s own unique voice.
Is it worth the cost involved to change my accent?
Yes. The cost is an investment. It is made once and benefits you forever. You will probably succeed more often, get better jobs, advance further in your career, and move within a better circle of friends if you have excellent voice and speech.
It is rather ironic that many people spend a lot of money on improving their appearance — clothes, hair, an expensive attache case, and so on — and yet, when they open their mouths, the sound that comes out does not match the rest of their appearance. They look elegant but sound common; look mature but sound childish; look business-like but sound unprofessional; look impressive but sound timid; look competent but sound uneducated; appear sensitive but sound brash. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial if the voice and speech matched the appearance in quality, manner, and style?
Is good voice and speech really important?
Researchers estimate that 55% of human communication is transmitted by the speaker’s appearance, 38% by the human voice, and only 7% by the actual words. The percentage transmitted by the voice is much more, of course, over the telephone. So, the impression you make is due in large part to the way you sound.
People can tell a lot about you by listening to the way you talk. They make inferences about your level of education, intelligence, maturity, and sophistication. They can also sense a lot about your degree of friendliness, enthusiasm, and empathy. You want to make sure that the way you sound projects what you want to convey to others about yourself. You want your voice and speech to project the kind of person you really are.
Can I have a good speaking voice?
Yes. Everyone has approximately the same “raw equipment” for voice and speech: lungs, vocal cords, a mouth, teeth, a tongue, and so on. It is simply up to each of us how we will use this equipment. The key is training. This is why one must study with a voice and speech coach and learn how to relax, breathe, phonate, resonate, focus the voice, and much, much more. Many of us have for years been subjected to poor voice and speech habits. Training will overcome these bad habits and replace them with good ones. Many persons who have had an unpleasant voice most of their lives or who have a soft, undeveloped, child-like voice are quite surprised suddenly to hear their real “true” voice released in the training process. It is quite something to get used to! A pleasant surprise.
Which is more effective: individual coaching or a class?
Both are effective.
Individual training is very intensive and efficient because the speech coach focuses on the individual client’s specific problems for an entire hour or hour-and-a-half with no interruptions or distractions and because time does not have to be spent on aspects of accent training that are not a problem for that particular client. Also, the training can be applied directly to the client’s particular job situation and communication needs.
While individual training is preferable to group training, many of the basic aspects of voice and speech or accent training can be taught in a small group of six to ten people. The group also allows individuals to interact with other class members as a part of the training.
Is the process of working to change my voice and speech — such as doing all of the exercises and drills everyday — boring?
No, it doesn’t have to be. While there is a certain amount of routine involved in developing good voice and speech, the daily drills and practice in breathing, relaxation, voice and speech can all be very satisfying. It should and does feel good. It is like training the body — and remember the voice is a part of the body; it is “physical.” It is like training for a marathon. When you have completed the warm-ups and drills, you feel very good — in excellent condition — on top of the world! Ready to meet any challenge! This is because the voice is connected to both our physical and mental/emotional processes. If you feel very good, it is reflected in your voice. But the reverse is also true: if your voice is in top condition, you will also feel good and project a confident and energetic personality. Brian also makes the training fun. He tailors exercises to each client, often drawing drills and exercises from the client’s own life. He has developed many highly creative approaches to voice and speech training, which are a lot of fun.