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Essay by Bonnie Engel Lee

Accent Reduction: From Intake to Intervention

Evaluation The evaluation usually takes more than an hour and consists of several probes. The intake process includes an interview with the client to obtain the following information: the clients purpose for seeking services, information about languages spoken, relevant medical history, prior training, length of time in the U.S., length of exposure to English, clients attitude about modifying or losing an accent, and the clients expectations of outcome of accent reduction coaching. The interview is typically recorded and analyzed as a sample of the clients spontaneous speech. An attitude rating scale, developed by Daniel Dato, is used to assess the clients attitude toward changing his/ her accent. Items are rated in terms of the frequency (often, sometimes, and rarely) with which an item applies to the client. An example of one such item is: I avoid situations where I have to speak English. While there are many standardized assessments of articulation available, I prefer to use Datos Pronunciation in Words and Sentences probe, which contains sounds produced at various places within the mouth: bilabials (lips), alveolars (alveolar ridge), velars (near velum), labio-dentals (lips and teeth), interdentals (between the teeth), alveolo-palatals (mid palate) and final sound clusters. Clients read the words and then make up sentences using each word. A reading sample is also obtained from the client using The Rainbow Passage, a phonetically balanced passage, which is also recorded and analyzed. Its interesting to compare a clients speech pattern during spontaneous speech to their reading sample. At times, because the speaker has to not only think of what to say while speaking, but also how to pronounce the words, there may be differences between reading and spontaneous speech samples, so both are analyzed. The last part of the assessment examines a clients ability to detect differences in stress and intonation patterns (Dato, 1996). The client listens to pairs of words or sentences and is asked to judge if word or sentence pairs sound the same or different. For example, the verb permit is produced with primary stress on the second syllable, as in the sentence, They will permit only two people to go to the conference. Then in contrast, the same word is used as a noun with primary stress on the first syllable as in, The permit was approved. Since some languages express meaning in different ways, such as with tonal differences, clients may not be aware of the differences conveyed by stress and/or intonational changes. One technological change that has dramatically impacted my clinical practice is the ability to record and store digital files of clients for analysis and pre/interim/post intervention assessments of performance. Audacity is a free audio recording program that is readily available on the internet for voice recording. Also, there are many tutorials available to assist the new user. In my practice, I use GarageBand, a program which came with my MacBook, for this purpose. Recording with either program is easy and allows the user to create a file which

Bonnie Engel Lee, Ph. D., is currently a public school Speech/Language Pathologist, where she works with children ages three to nine. In her private practice, she works directly or via Skype addressing clients accent reduction and communicative needs. In conjunction with her training as a voice actor, she maintains a home recording studio. She produces a podcast called Talking Kidz: What Parents Want to Know as a means to reach parents who need information and support. She also blogs about topics pertinent to professional speakers and voice actors. Additional information is available at: BonnieEngelLee.com

The purpose of this article is to share some of the procedures used in my private practice while working with clients whose first language is not English. These clients are often referred to as English Language Learners (ELLs). Their goal is to improve their speech intelligibility by improving their pronunciation of English. Improved speech intelligibility results from changes in clients sound systems, as well as the stress and intonation patterns they use. These changes are often sought to improve a clients ability to obtain employment and/or for job advancement. While the major focus of this article is on ELLs, several of the procedures can be used with people who speak professionally, such as actors, voice actors and public speakers. My approach to working with clients has been shaped by more than thirty years of training and experience as a speech/ language pathologist, and also by courses taken from Daniel P. Dato, author of Psycholinguistic Aspects of Foreign Accents, and the work of Arthur J. Compton, Director of the Institute of Language and Phonology. The article addresses various phases of the process from intake/evaluation and analysis through interventions with clients.


A World of Voice The Voice & Speech Review

can also be re-played for clients to listen to their own speech, to make them aware of what you would like to address, and also to inform them of the changes youve noted over time. I also record my sessions with clients and send them home with a CD that I burn for them at the end of each session. When working with clients who are voice actors and who are comfortable with and often have home recording studios, I ask clients to send me mp3 files of their auditions, practice sessions and/or jobs to assess their speech and progress toward goals. Accent reduction coaches might find that it is beneficial to listen to the speech patterns of speakers of a variety of languages to make them aware of the differences. The Speech Accent Archive, available at http://accent.gmu.edu/browse_maps/samerica.php is a collection of 248 speakers of different languages, reading the same paragraph. While the speakers may or may not be representative of the speech of the region, the resource is helpful in developing ones listening and identification skills. Analysis The speech sample is analyzed phonetically and at the same time for inappropriate stress and intonation patterns that not only distract the listener but may also affect the speakers message. Unique speech patterns are often associated with each of the world languages. I typically consult a resource manual, Foreign Accent Norms of American English for 47 Languages, written by Arthur J. Compton, Ph.D., to research a clients first language to identify the typical phonetic patterns of the language. The manual reports on the various pronunciation patterns observed when the speaker of a given language produces English phonemes. For each language, speech patterns are organized by manner of production: stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, liquids, consonant clusters, vowels and diphthongs, with data pertaining to the percentage of speakers who display a particular pattern. This information is used to determine if a particular sound substitution, an /s/ for a /z/ for example, is typically observed in a particular language. As noted previously, each clients speech samples and test results are summarized in terms of the phonemes (both vowels and consonants) to be addressed, with an explanation of how the client typically produces them. The summary also identifies the stress and intonation patterns that do not follow typical English conventions. Segments of the clients assessment are replayed to illustrate the areas identified for intervention and to enable the client to better understand the assessment results. Just as there are differences in terms of how ELLs produce English consonants based upon the sound system of the speakers first language, the same is true for vowels. It is interesting to note the importance of the accuracy of vowel production because of the important role vowels play in conveying the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence. Therefore, analysis of the vowels used by the speaker is critical. When working with a professional speaker who wishes to acquire a particular dialect or to lose a dialect to improve his/ her marketability, attention to vowel differences is of the utmost importance. Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols is helpful in this process. Intervention: Speech Patterns Clients can be seen individually or in small groups. While I prefer to work individually with clients on their sound system, group classes can be successful if clients needs are similar. When a clients speech pattern has improved to the point where he/she is ready to work on intonation and stress patterns (if needed), group sessions are often helpful, as clients can learn from each other, and the English stress patterns that are modeled are applicable to many of the clients. Direct instruction begins by educating clients on how speech sounds are produced and how they sound when they are correctly articulated. Beginning with sound system, the client and I systematically work through the sounds identified in the clients evaluation. It is important to understand how a particular client pronounces a given English phoneme in order to help the student improve. When addressing vowel differences, it is helpful to introduce a client to the vowel diagram for English vowels. The following link helps clients understand how the tongue moves when producing vowels (http://lizsandler.co.uk/ articulation/articulation_homepage.html). The diagram visually conveys to clients that vowel differences relate to the height of the tongue (high, middle or low) and to whether the tongue is positioned in the front, middle or back of the oral cavity. In English, some of the vowels are produced with more tension than others and the duration of the vowel sound may play a role in dialectal differences. For example, a voice actor with whom I worked wanted to lose his southern accent. He produced the diphthong /a/ as in words such as high or my by lengthening the duration of the first vowel and omitting the second vowel. After identifying that he correctly pronounces the // vowel (as in words such as hit or sit) he was taught to pronounce the diphthong using the minimal pair approach. Using this approach, a client practices saying a word such as my two different ways, first with only one vowel as /ma/ where the /a/ is lengthened and second as /ma/ with the diphthong. Here is an example that relates to consonants. One of my clients produced all initial /l/ sounds as an /n/ so the word, light was pronounced as night. By asking the client to occlude his nostrils and knowing that the /l/ and/ /n/ are both produced with the tongue tip on the alveolar ridge (gum ridge behind the top teeth), the client was able to quickly understand and learn how to say the /l/ sound correctly in structured speech. When an English sound is not included in a clients first language, sounds that are similar to the sound are used to teach the sound. For example, if a clients first language does not include the // sound in the word, shoe but does include the /s/ sound, then


Private Studio Practice Accent Reduction: From Intake to Intervention by Bonnie Engel Lee
the clients production of the /s/ sound is modified by teaching the client to use a more posterior tongue placement and to use a rounder lip position. There are a variety of techniques that clients find helpful in the learning process. I often begin with a general overview of the production of English speech sounds and then focus specifically on the sounds identified in the assessment. The features of voicing as well as place and manner of phoneme production are explained to the client. Thanks to University of Iowa Flash Animations Project (http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics), students can select a particular vowel or consonant and become acquainted with how the specific sound is produced by watching an animated diagram of the mouth. At the same time, they are able to simultaneously listen to the words pronounced by the speakers. After educating the client about speech sound production, I focus on listening. This phase of the coaching process, which might also be referred to as ear training or auditory discrimination training, enables the client to hear sounds produced correctly in various contexts and to compare how he/she produces the same sounds. After a client has become familiar with how a particular sound is produced, it is important for a client to be able to differentiate between correct and incorrect productions of a particular sound. Through the use of minimal pairs, as mentioned previously, a client is presented with pairs of words that contrast the sound the client is learning to produce. It is also helpful to include sounds that the client is currently using as a replacement for the target sound. For example, a client who is working on the // sound might hear a list of words such as run and won or red and wed, which help him/her appreciate the auditory differences between the target sound and the clients own productions. Minimal pairs can also be used in the production phase, where clients practice saying minimal pairs of words and making them sound different from each other. An accent reduction coach can develop a list of words that contrast the clients speech pattern with the targeted English phoneme or use the online minimal pair resource compiled by John Higgins, which can be found at: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wordscape/wordlist. After identifying the two vowel or consonant sounds which you wish to contrast, you click on the number which indicates how many minimal pairs have been collected for your contrast and you will see a list of pairs of words that are contrasted on the two sounds selected. After a client understands how a particular sound is produced and is able to discriminate between correct and incorrect productions of a targeted sound, the client begins to practice saying the sound. If a facilitating context is identified during the assessment, then practice begins with that specific context. For example, if a client tends to produce the /j/ sound as in yes instead of an /l/ sound, but is able to produce an /l/ when followed by the vowel /i/ then practice would be expanded to include words that contain the same vowel such as leek and leave, lean, etc. Next, production is attempted with other vowels produced near the front of the mouth such as the vowel // in the word, pick or the vowel // in the word, bed. After practicing with the front vowels, central vowels such as the schwa // or // as in the words, vanilla or cut would be used in practice materials. The general pattern of increasing from syllables, to words, phrases and sentences is typically followed. It is important for a client to be engaged in self-evaluation early on in the process and to continue to do so throughout the intervention phrase. An easy to use method is to have clients extend their thumb upward if they rate a particular production as successful, while a horizontal thumb position might mean the production is fair and a downward thumb position might mean that the production is not a good approximation of the target sound. By attending to your clients speech, you might notice other facilitating contexts. I recently noticed that one of my current clients is able to say the /l/ sound when it is followed by a /d/. Therefore, we practiced words such as hold, cold, called, held, etc. Non-native speakers of English can often be identified as such, not only because of the speakers speech pattern, but also because the speaker does not use the reduced forms that native speakers use. Specifically, in conversational speech, native speakers of English tend to omit or change sounds, which enable them to speak more rapidly, and the absence of these patterns is easy to identify. For example, where a non-native speaker might say, I have to go, a native speaker might express the same idea by saying, I hafta go. One can argue the value of teaching non-native speakers to use reduced forms. However, clients may have difficulty understanding reduced forms if they are not familiar with these patterns. Of course, it is also important to acknowledge that there is a time and place for different speech patterns and one would not use reduced forms when giving a formal presentation. For more extensive examples of reduced forms, refer to my July 10, 2008 post, Want to Speak Naturally? Use Reduced Forms, which can be found at http://speechdoc.blogspot.com Intervention: Intonation Patterns Intonation patterns can be conveyed to clients using the numbers one through four. The number two is used for the clients consistent or habitual pitch level, the one he/she would use if speaking in a monotone. The number one is used when the clients pitch drops below number two, and numbers three and four are used for pitch levels that are successively higher than the clients habitual pitch. Practice materials beginning with two syllable words and then extending to phrases and sentences can be used with numbers written over each syllable to convey to the client when his/her pitch level should be increased or decreased. There is a common misconception that the pitch rises at the end of all questions and drops at the end of a statement. While statements tend to having a falling pitch level at the end of the statement, certain questions tend to have a falling


A World of Voice The Voice & Speech Review

intonation pattern, such as questions that begin with words such as who, what, or where, while questions to which the reply is typically a yes or no, tend to have intonation patterns that rise toward the end of the question. The meaning or intent of the speaker can account for intonation patterns that do not follow these general rules. Modeling intonation patterns for clients and enabling them to hear your model in comparison to their speech is often helpful. Sometimes, tapping ones hand on a table can help clients become aware of the rhythm and intonation patterns of English. You can find examples of how numbers are used to convey intonation patterns in my August 2, 2008 post, The Golden Rule of Intonation, which can be found at http://speechdoc.blogspot.com Intervention: Stress Patterns While there are some rules about stress patterns that can be taught to clients, there are probably as many exceptions as there are rules. Some of the rules relate to the part of speech of the word. As mentioned previously, if a word is a verb, the primary stress tends to be on the second syllable while the same word used as a noun tends to have primary stress on the first syllable. Using a stress marker, prior to and above the syllable with primary stress can be a helpful visual cue for clients. A very helpful resource for clients who want to hear someone pronounce a word is the online site, Howjsay, which pronounces words that a client can type into a box and can be accessed at: http://www. howjsay.com Summary An accent reduction coach brings a variety of skills to the coaching arena, whether the client is an English Language Learner or a professional speaker. These skills include: a knowledge base about speech and voice production, the ability to translate the information in a way that is meaningful to the client, a good ear for listening to clients voice and speech patterns, a comfort level with technology for recording and analyzing speech samples, and a significant amount of creativity, which is the part of the process I thoroughly enjoy. Also, since clients tend to be highly motivated and successful, the coaching process is very rewarding.