Do I need English Pronunciation Training or Accent Reduction?

accent reduction in knoxville

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that? I didn’t understand.”
“Oh my gosh, I love your accent. Where are you from? Say something else.”

If you hear statements like this regularly, you may have been wondering what you could do to be better understood by others and taken more seriously.

Yet you’re too advanced for English classes, or maybe English is your first language. You don’t need any more grammar training, and you may have tried CD’s or DVD’s with little change in your communication skills. Most of all, even though you are a well-educated and successful professional, you wish you were more confident in who you are and what you have to say.

Confidence Learning Services’ Accent Reduction / English Pronunciation Training courses, available on-site in Knoxville TN or worldwide via Skype, may be able to help you communicate more confidently.

Let’s look at a few clues that English Pronunciation Training is right for you:

If people regularly ask you to repeat yourself in English, you could benefit from English Pronunciation Training.

Of course, everyone has to repeat themselves once in awhile. But if you have to repeat yourself more than once a day, you might need some English Pronunciation Training. In Knoxville, I have heard some speakers repeat themselves up to 10 times to make themselves understood. Try to keep a tally sheet with you, or on your smartphone, and tally each time you have had to repeat yourself to make yourself understood. If it’s more than once a day, you might want to seek further English Pronunciation Training. Coming up with excuses about why your accent isn’t “that bad” or how you wouldn’t learn anything in an Accent Reduction course won’t improve your communication skills.

English Pronunciation Training may also be helpful if you need to present a professional image without the distraction of an accent.

This applies to both regional and foreign accents. If you travel to make presentations at conferences, or communicate with clients on a daily basis, you don’t want your accent to speak louder than your words. But how do you know this is happening? If oral communication is a big part of your communication with others, you will notice if people regularly comment on your accent. Perhaps you have given a presentation on recent scientific research conducted by your group, only to have people approach you afterwards asking about your accent, how long you have lived here, and to talk about cultural questions. English Pronunciation training – even for native speakers – can help you to communicate professionally and put the focus back on what you have to say.
If your job involves little to no oral communication, you rarely interact with new people, and you don’t have to give presentations or speak with clients, then accent reduction might not be as beneficial for you. But keep in mind that even though those are not your current job responsibilities, if you are hoping for a promotion or raise, you might want to be prepared for them.

If you are a performer or public speaker.

One of the best examples of this is the character of Gregory House played by Hugh Laurie. Laurie mastered the American accent so well that most Americans don’t realize he is actually from the U.K. Incidentally, the writers of the television show “House, MD” could have included Laurie’s accent – it’s not like there are no doctors in the US with a British accent. But the writers didn’t want Laurie’s character to be immediately written off by American audiences, so they went with the American accent.
If you are a local news anchor, actor, speaker, or performer from another country living in the US, having an English Pronunciation coach may help you advance in your career as well. Likewise, if you are a performer or broadcaster from Knoxville but wanting to break into a national market, English Pronunciation Training may help.

If you are willing to put effort into improving yourself

Many people would love to lose some weight. Few people go to the gym regularly. Finding an English Pronunciation Coach is a lot like finding a personal trainer, and the practice materials provided in your sessions are a lot like your gym membership. If you aren’t willing to put the time and effort in, or if you aren’t interested in following your coach’s instructions, you won’t see the results you want.

Still not sure if you should pursue English Pronunciation Training? Contact Confidence Learning Services for a FREE evaluation.

We’ll come to your office in Knoxville or set up an appointment on Skype to give you a free, in-depth evaluation of your individual accent. 1-865-226-9477.

What are the best accent reduction materials?

book and cd

“But I already have an electronic dictionary with a voice feature.”book and cd

At Confidence Learning Services, we have spent several years accumulating materials to help others communicate more clearly in English. When you enroll in an Accent Reduction course with us, all materials are provided, including a subscription to an Online Practice Program and recommended books, websites, and apps. But yet, some people ask, “Why that website and not this one?” or, “Why should I download that dictionary app when I already have a dictionary?”
Those are fair questions, so let me answer them here.

Things to keep in mind when considering Accent Reduction Materials:

– Not all pronunciation training websites or programs are created equal.

Some contain poor pronunciation, grammar mistakes, or inauthentic pronunciation. Some simply don’t do a good job of building you up to clear communication in your everyday speech. We only recommend sites that we have tested and are confident in. One of our favorites is: http://trainyouraccent.com/

– Not all dictionaries or dictionary apps are the same.

Go ahead, download a few dictionary apps in your native language. Now look up a word, and imagine trying to understand the definition if you were learning that language. Now listen to the pronunciation example. Does it sound natural, or robotic? These are easy to evaluate in your native language, but harder to evaluate in a second language. That’s why we recommend specific dictionaries and dictionary apps for you to use, instead of the electronic dictionary or app you may already have. One of our favorites is: www.dictionary.com

– Materials may be negotiable.

If your instructor has assigned something that you hate, or that doesn’t work for you, let them know. Some materials may be negotiable. For example, despite the popularity with most of my clients, one client in particular strongly disliked the website recommended above. Instead of trying to “Power through” it, or pretending to do the assignment and skipping it, that client informed me that the website wasn’t working for them, and we set up something different. Don’t hesitate to let your instructor know about any problems you are having, but keep in mind:

– Accent Reduction isn’t always fun.

Unlike the “entertaining” and immediately gratifying experience of learning a new language and being able to order new and exciting food right away, accent reduction is often tedious and time-consuming. Progress typically occurs at a slow-and-steady pace. Accent reduction is incredibly valuable in being understood, not having to repeat yourself as frequently, and advancing in your career, but it takes time. The materials used reflect this, so if you are frustrated with the practice program or activity your instructor assigned, you can express your displeasure, but be prepared to accept that the particular program assigned is non-negotiable, or that any alternatives are equally tedious and time-consuming.

Remember, with Accent Reduction, slow-and-steady wins the race.

Much like starting a new diet and exercise routine, you may not notice results right away, and they may be so gradual that it is hard to tell if you are improving at all. But at the end of your program, when you have lost that 20 lbs, you can rest assured that those around you can see your accomplishment.

Likewise, with Accent Reduction, you may feel as if no one notices your clearer communication, but by the end of your course, your 50-80% improvement will shine through as you listen to your before and after recordings, and you should notice people understanding you better and asking you to repeat yourself much less.

If you’re still not sure if a personalized accent reduction course is right for you, contact us today at 1-865-226-9477 for a free Accent Evaluation. We’ll go over all the sounds in the English language and determine if Accent Reduction works for you. 

 

Free Spanish Seminar, English Seminar, and Accent Reduction Seminar

Free Seminar

Today I’d like to let you in on a little secret, which is, how to get free English, free Spanish, or free Accent Reduction instruction.

Free Seminar

For non-profits in the Knoxville area, Confidence Learning Services offers a “1-hour free seminar.” It’s not a sales pitch, we don’t even offer anything to buy at these seminars. We simply want to share our expertise with charitable organizations whose members could benefit from extending their language skills. In exchange, we just ask that you let us pass out some flyers at the end of our presentation.

So what are you getting for free? It’s your choice of:

Confidence English – Free English Instruction

o If your non-profit works with people who have learned English as a second language, whether they are members, volunteers, or clients, we offer a free English seminar highlighting some of the toughest areas of English, like proper use of prepositions, articles, and e-mail etiquette.

Confidence Spanish – Free Spanish Instruction

o Going on a missions trip to Central America? Reaching out to the 17,000 Spanish speakers in your local community? Confidence Spanish has got you covered. Our free Spanish training includes focused vocabulary based on your organization’s needs, condensed pronunciation instruction, and authentic practice opportunities.

Confidence American Accent – Free Accent Reduction

o Does your non-profit involve people who could benefit from clearer communication, clearer pronunciation, or accent reduction? In our one hour free Accent Reduction seminar, we highlight some of the most difficult sounds and words in the English language, and provide interactive practice opportunities, tailoring our instruction to the participants attending.

Plus, each free seminar features giveaways and special discounts for participants!

Although these seminars are only available for free to non-profits, like churches, religious organizations, schools, or community organizations, we do offer similar services to for-profit businesses at just $99 an hour.

So, how do you sign up your organization for a free English, free Spanish, or free Accent Reduction seminar? Contact Confidence Learning Services today at 1-865-226-9477.

How to not be successful learning a language

One size does not fit all

I talk to people regularly who tell me, “I took three years of High School Spanish and I don’t speak a word” or “I’ve taken six ESL classes and I still can’t order dinner in English.” At Confidence Learning Services, when you sign up for a course with us, you can be confident that we want you to succeed in communicating more clearly in your language of choice. But that doesn’t always happen, and in fact,  I’ve even had a client or two myself who haven’t been successful in achieving their goals.

So what is keeping these students from experiencing success in their language learning? Here are some basic principles involved in failing at a foreign language.

Failing at a foreign language – Your Instructor Matters

Instructor

Who is your instructor? How do they know what they know?

Being a certified, highly-qualified Spanish teacher, I can let you in on a little secret – not all Spanish teachers are fluent Spanish speakers. In the U.S., this depends a lot on the state’s requirements to become a licensed teacher, but the truth is, a lot of people memorize the grammar and vocabulary needed and pass the tests to get their license without being a fluent speaker.

In East Asia, the problem is almost an epidemic, with many if not most English teachers unable to speak English themselves.

As a result, these teachers rely on textbooks, vocabulary and grammar memorization, and pre-packaged quizzes to teach a language that they can’t really use to communicate.

How can you tell if your instructor is a fluent speaker? Well, you can start by asking them about their education and experience, maybe ask for their personal recommendations for authors, singers, favorite actors or TV shows in the language they teach. If possible, get them to talk to a friend who speaks the language, or see if you can find a recording of your instructor speaking the target language.

Failing at a foreign language – One-size doesn’t fit all

One size does not fit all

“One-size fits all” language classes are not effective

Even if you had a fluent French speaker for a teacher in high school, the materials that teacher used can make a lot of difference. If they were restricted to teaching grammar from a textbook, and trying to teach a class of 30 teenagers whose interests and talents ranged from basketball to philosophy to dance, they simply made do with what they had. Unfortunately, if you learn best by reading novels, and your teacher decided to show a TV series to your class, you were out of luck. If you picked up the language quickly, but your teacher had to constantly review for students whose pace was slower, you were also out of luck. Pretty soon, a few years have gone by and you still don’t speak French.

When looking for a language learning program, personalization matters. Talk to your instructor about how they personalize their course, if they offer the same courses regularly or if they vary their offerings. An individual or small group course is the best context for language learning. At Confidence Learning Services, because our students are different each time, we never offer the same course twice. The important thing is that you are getting materials and opportunities that work for you.

Failing at a foreign language – Time matters

Time Matters

30 minutes a day = 3.5 hours one day a week?

None of us have the time we need to accomplish everything we would like. But in language learning, regular practice is key. The brain shuts down to new language information after about 90 minutes, so completing an hour a day will be more beneficial than cramming 6 hours in on Saturday.

It’s important to recognize before you begin studying a language how much time you can dedicate to regular practice. If your workout routine, volunteer commitments, and ongoing education courses are taking up your time, you may want to reconsider adding a language learning program to your routine.

As a rule of thumb, if you cannot dedicate about an hour a day to practice, it might not be the best time to start a language learning plan.

Failing at a foreign language – Authentic communication matters

After taking some foreign language classes, you may be able to listen to a conversation on an audio learning CD successfully, play some games, or sing a song in your target language. But are you really communicating?

It’s important to use your new language to actually communicate. Communication opportunities – whether they are sending e-mails, visiting your local Spanish language store, having an open-ended conversation with your conversation, or attending a worship service in the target language – should be built into your language learning program. At Confidence Learning Services, specializing in offering the highest-quality personalized language instruction available means we work hard to build this communication practice into each course, even for clients who live in a different state.

Sometimes this is a little uncomfortable or intimidating. I recently asked a client to visit a local Spanish-speaking business and ask employees there to give her directions to somewhere else. But that authentic practice is vital to your communication skills.

Failing at a foreign language – Following directions matters

Following Directions

“My trainer said to lift weights to build arm muscle, but I want to try the treadmill instead.”

This one should be a given, but I run into this situation from time-to-time with my clients. I assign specific practice materials and opportunities, only to find that my clients don’t follow through with their assignments. It may not be a question of their time, either, as I sometimes find they have spent more time practicing something else entirely! But here’s the thing – following directions matters.

If you go to a personal trainer at the gym, tell him that you want to enhance your muscles and bulk up, they may assign a weight lifting routine. But sometimes, weight machines can be confusing, and you might decide to spend that time on the treadmill instead. Don’t be surprised when you haven’t reached your goals after a few months. You weren’t following directions that were created by a trained expert, and you decided to follow your own advice instead.

If you have a course with a qualified instructor, providing personalized curriculum, building in authentic communication practice into the course, and you have dedicated the appropriate amount of time to practice, you could still fail simply by not following directions. Say your instructor has assigned a vocabulary list to you, but you decide to learn a different one. Or you have a movie assigned to watch, and instead you decide you would prefer to spend that time listening to dialogs on CD’s. You might even think you can learn more from listening to those Audio learning CD’s than you can from watching the movie your instructor assigned. But here’s the thing – following directions matters. Instead of simply changing course, let your instructor know why that assigned movie didn’t work, or why you would prefer a new vocabulary list. In everything, but especially in language-learning, communication is key.

So what do you think? Have you had any experiences succeeding or failing at learning a foreign language? Why do you think you were successful, or not successful?

If you would like to be successful in learning Spanish, improving your English, or speaking with an American Accent, contact us today, at 1-865-226-9477.

Southern Accent Reduction: What it is, and why it’s not as bad as you might think

Oak Ridge National Lab

Accent Reduction has gotten publicity in the Knoxville area in recent days, specifically a Southern Accent Reduction course that was canceled at Oak Ridge National Labs due to employee complaints. Although this course was not offered by Confidence Learning Services, it did bring the topic of Accent Reduction into the public arena, and was the first time many have been exposed to the idea of Accent Reduction.

Oak Ridge National Lab

Oak Ridge National Lab

What is “Southern Accent Reduction”?

Accent “reduction” is kind of a misnomer, really.

We all speak with an accent. Whether you are from Knoxville, Atlanta, New York, Boston, or Milwaukee, there will be subtle differences in the way you pronounce sounds and words that set your accent apart from other accents. A Southern Accent Reduction course would not necessarily eliminate your Southern Accent, but simply offer the opportunity to learn a new accent. Many of us wish we could learn to speak with an Irish accent, or an Australian accent, and most of us have a friend or acquaintance who can “do a great accent”. An accent reduction course simply seeks to teach a new accent, typically a “Standard American Accent”, the type of American English Accent we hear on national news broadcasts, or narrating movies or television shows.

Why would anyone want to take a Southern Accent Reduction Course?

Many people are proud of their accents, so why consider Southern Accent Reduction at all?

Accent Reduction courses typically serve two purposes. First, they help enable communication for people who struggle with repeating themselves frequently and who are often misunderstood. Typically, these are non-native English speakers who are struggling to match their pronunciation with the “Standard American Accent” mentioned above. Second, they can help people present a more professional image by communicating with a neutral accent. How does this apply to Southern Accent Reduction?

Let’s look at a few scenarios:

When I first moved to New York from Dallas, TX I noticed that each time I entered a store or restaurant, I was greeted by something that sounded like “Hoo-ah-ya?” It took me a couple of months to realize that these shop owners were not aggressively demanding my identity, but simply trying to ask “How are you?” Of course, within New York, their communication attempts were generally understood. But let’s imagine one of these shop owners moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and opened a store, greeting each customer with that same “Hoo-ah-ya?” Many customers in Knoxville would have difficulty understanding and might get the wrong impression. Add to that the stereotype of people with New York accents being aggressive and rude, and the shop might be out of business in a few months. If that shop owner took an Accent Reduction course, she might be more successful anywhere in the country.

The same principle applies to Southern Accent Reduction. If someone moves from Knoxville to Chicago, and tells a potential employer, “Yayus, all be thar directly” for an interview, the interviewer might have no idea what to expect from their potential employee, and choose to hire someone who could be more easily understood.

However, moving is not necessarily the only context in which an Accent Reduction course could be useful. Let’s take another look at a potential scenario:

Jane has been hired as a manager for a Washington state firm that has recently expanded into Knoxville. Everyone else in her office is from out of state, but because of her extensive experience and qualifications in the field, hiring her was a no-brainer. Asked to give an annual report back at the headquarters in Seattle, she spends 2-weeks preparing a presentation designed to highlight the accomplishments her branch has made in the last year, and also to propose some changes and innovation that she hopes to get approved by upper management. After giving what she felt to be a great presentation, she was greeted by others in upper management with comments like “Oh I just love your accent, where are you from?” “I love the way you speak, it’s so charming.” “Do you say y’all? Can you say the word “dog”? I just love the way Southerners say the word dog.” “To hear you talk, I wouldn’t think you had an MBA.” Although most comments about her accent were positive, the accomplishments of her firm went largely unnoticed, and her proposed innovations were ignored. One comment betrayed the negative perception others have of people with Southern Accents, though, which could add greater difficulty to Jane’s career path

.business rates for spanish courses in Knoxville

Is a Southern Accent Reduction course right for everyone?

It’s true that not everyone could benefit from a Southern Accent Reduction course.

Perhaps you speak with a Southern Accent, but you have lived and worked in Knoxville your whole life, and only travel for leisure. You probably don’t have to worry about losing contracts or sales with clients in California or Ohio, so a Southern Accent Reduction course might not benefit your career or personal life. Or perhaps you are using your Southern Accent to your advantage-maybe you own a home-cooking restaurant nearby, or are in the country or bluegrass music business. Can you imagine Dolly Parton being successful without her East Tennessee twang?

Dolly

But if your job does require travel and presenting a professional appearance at meetings and conferences, a Southern Accent Reduction course might not be such a bad thing. Of course, just like any other Accent Reduction course, it’s a completely optional course that you should only take if it’s right for you. But just because it may not be right for you, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be right for someone else.

 Want to learn more about Accent Reduction, for yourself, for a friend, or just for fun? Contact  Confidence Learning Services today at 1-865-226-9477. We’d be happy to talk to you more about Accent Reduction, or schedule a free accent evaluation so you can learn more about your own accent.

Tennessee: Here’s 6 Things you didn’t know about Accent Reduction Classes

accent reduction in knoxville

I get a lot of questions about the most interesting and least understood service that I provide with Confidence Learning Services, “Accent Reduction.” Here are some basic facts that will hopefully help you to understand this service just a bit better.

 

1. Accent Reduction is not really reducing your accent, but simply learning a new accent.


A lot of people considering Accent Reduction Courses are scared or intimidated by the possibility of “losing” a part of themselves, or they wonder what it would be like to speak “without” an accent. But the truth is, we all speak with an accent. An Accent Reduction Class just teaches you how to speak with a standard American accent, instead of the regional or foreign accent that has been causing you difficulty.

 

2. Accent Reduction Software is limited.


Anytime you purchase something that is pre-packaged, like Accent Reduction Software or DVDs, you are giving up personalized attention for a generic product. Your accent is as unique as you are, and each person has different accent issues in English that need to be addressed, including your native language, your hometown or country, age, gender, level of education, career specialty, level of exposure to English, etc. When you purchase an “Accent Reduction Software”, it may be helpful, but the same content will be available whether you are a Native Chinese speaking Engineer, or a Native Finnish speaking financial executive. Choosing a class or trainer with one-on-one learning opportunities increases the effectiveness of any program.

 

3. Accent Reduction does work.

“But my uncle has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and he still speaks with an accent!”

Accent Reduction is possible, but only if you are willing to invest the time and energy required. Students who enroll in a 12-week Accent Reduction Course, and practice for one hour each day during the length of that course, demonstrate an average of 50-80% improvement on an objective evaluation. However, if you don’t enroll in an accent reduction or pronunciation training class, or put some sort of effort into improving your pronunciation, chances are, you won’t see much improvement. It’s a lot like having a membership with a gym – you may have had a membership for the past 5 years, but if you haven’t put the time and effort in each day to work out, you will still be out of shape.

 

4. Accent Reduction is easier for some people than others.


Life isn’t fair, and this is one of those areas that just seems unjust. Learning correct English pronunciation is much easier for people who come from similar language backgrounds – especially other Germanic languages like German or Dutch. It is hardest for people who come from languages with very different sets of sounds, like Mandarin or Cantonese. However, students who find accent reduction the hardest are precisely the people who can benefit most from an individualized Accent Reduction course. Students who come from language backgrounds that are very different from English tend to struggle the most with day to day activities – communicating at work, ordering food, talking with service personnel on the phone – because of their accent. These are the students who will see the biggest difference in their quality of life after taking an accent reduction course.

 

5. Accent Reduction isn’t just for non-native English speakers.


Regional accent reduction can also benefit your career. If you are traveling throughout the U.S. for business and find people consistently asking you where you are from, that may be a sign that your accent is affecting the impression you give to others. It’s no problem to say “y’all” instead of you, or “far” instead of “fire” if you are living in Tennessee, and saying “Hoe-ah-ya?” instead of “How are you?” in New York probably won’t garner any negative attention. However, when you leave your local region and try to conduct business in other areas of the country, these pronunciation habits will likely place the spotlight on your accent, instead of what you are trying to say.

 

6. An accent is just a habit


Just like brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or looking both ways at a stop sign, an accent is a habit, a way of speaking that your brain has been programmed to do since about age 4. Because an accent is a habit, it can be changed with practice. However, it is very different from learning new information, which simply requires memorization. An accent requires regular practice to master the new skill you are trying to implement, and it changes gradually, just like any habit you are setting out to change.

Want to learn more about accent reduction? Give us a call and we’ll set you up with a free evaluation to identify the specific areas of English pronunciation you need to improve most.