About accents and elocution

How we speak and how we're heard

In Australia, an accent is rarely a barrier to employment or social success, as long as the clarity of your accent is good. In some other communities, there is a much stronger conformist pressure when it comes to accent (particularly foreign accents in the USA).

Nonetheless, in any community there will be certain industries, levels of business, or particular social groups where a foreign accent of any sort might be regarded negatively, even if the speaker's quality of communication is good.

Everyone has an accent

Most Australians have one of a variety of Australian English accents, sometimes mixed with the accent of another type of English (eg, Yorkshire, Indian), or with the accent of another language (eg, Italian, Vietnamese, Arabic).

An accent is the combination of pronunciation of individual words, general pronunciation patterns of vowels and consonants, rhythmic and tonal characteristics.

Sometimes people's accents change without them really noticing, like when an Australian who has lived in North America for a while starts sounding a little American, or a Japanese speaker who after years in an English-speaking country goes back to Japan and is told they sound 'strange' in Japanese.

Even on a very subtle level, changes happen all the time. In a conversation, for instance, we change our tone, our pitch, and our speed, depending on who we're talking to and what we're talking about. Sometimes actors don't sound very convincing because they don't make these real-life adjustments in their speech, so the audience hears the delivery as 'stiff' or 'unnatural'.

Does an accent need to be 'fixed'?

Sometimes it can be attractive to have a certain native or foreign accent, like the popular view of French-accented English sounding romantic. In the UK, it's known that some Scottish and northern English accents make a warm or trustworthy impression, so call-centres employ people from those areas.

Unfortunately, some other accents don't make a good impression due to social prejudice or unfamiliarity. This can be a real problem for people with a strong foreign accent who are trying to improve their career opportunities.

Any accent that is different from the most common one in a particularly place will attract attention - some people will find it a little harder to understand, or want to ask where the speaker comes from. It is often in these circumstances that someone will seek out accent reduction or 'neutralisation' classes to 'correct' their accent.

Language learning

Learning a new language is a great way to improve your understanding of the people around you, of cultures and history. Anyone can learn a new language, but some will find it harder than others. As you get older, long-established habits can make things seem more difficult too, but that doesn't mean you can't learn something new! It might just require a little more practice or time. Learning another language is difficult and anyone who has tried to speak a new language in a new place deserves respect for their efforts, regardless of how much they achieve.

Elocution

Once upon a time, elocution was about speaking 'nicely'. Young women (in particular) would be taught how to sound appropriately posh or upper class, often termed 'well spoken'.

Nowadays, 'elocution' seems to mean more generally 'the art of speaking', and Ear & Speak helps many clients in Melbourne with elocution classes or lessons to change the way they speak.

There are still some people who focus on the posh aspect of speaking because of perceptions of social class or a lack of confidence in the quality of their speech. Broadly speaking, this sort of change is quite difficult for most people, but small changes can help greatly with personal confidence.

Please note that Ear & Speak will not provide training to modify the speech of children or young teenagers except under very special circumstances. Children and teenagers should not be subjected to criticism of cosmetic aspects of their speech and should be permitted to develop their social identity naturally.

Can Ear & Speak help you?

Ear & Speak offers specialist one-on-one accent modification classes, elocution lessons and other training in Melbourne to help people improve confidence by teaching them how to speak better in English. We can sometimes also help clients outside Melbourne. For more information, have a look at the page about training or the frequently asked questions.