Even if you've never left the United States, chances are that you've heard at least a few accents. In the U.S., regional accents are common. People from Maine, people from Georgia, people from Chicago and people from Dallas may all have distinct accents, for example. However, sometimes an individual might want to lose his accent and speak in what is commonly known as "general American English."
Why Do People Speak With Accents?
Let's say you want to know how to sound African, or you want to know how to get rid of a Southern accent. What do you do? What are accents, anyway? There are multiple answers to this question. The first thing to consider, especially for speakers who are from the U.S., is the idea of a regional accent.
America is a large country, and American speech varies from New York to Atlanta to the Midwest to Southern California. These accents are often holdovers from the way that immigrant groups who founded the areas spoke. Their descendants grew up speaking the same way, and so the accent stuck.
Another kind of accent is the accent of the English-language learner. English-language learners who grew up speaking a different language will speak English with an accent particular to the area where they grew up. This is because letter combinations in other languages make different sounds. There is also the added issue of tongue and lip movements.
Why Would Someone Want to Get Rid of a Southern Accent?
Accents can be a wonderful reminder of where you are from or of your heritage, but in certain situations, it can be desirable to be able to shed an accent. For many people, this is a very emotional prospect. Getting rid of your accent can feel like an erasure of past identity, your heritage and your origins. To do this in order to "fit in" in a particular culture can be wrenching for people. However, in some cases, shedding an accent so that you can speak with a different accent may be a requirement for your professional life.
Actors, news reporters, social workers and other professionals who rely on their voice for communication are often in need of the ability to shed their accents. Many professionals from countries that work all over the globe need to find a way to speak English that does not have a particularly pronounced accent in order to seem more "American" and to be understood more easily. Actors in particular may need to work to shed their accents because a role they are playing may require them to speak in a totally different dialect.
When the tongue and lips work to pronounce letters in French or in German, they make different shapes than they would when speaking American English. Non-native speakers may have a tough time shedding that habit and inflect their English speech with these same tones.
How to Get Rid of an Accent
There are many ways that you can go about trying to lose an accent. One of the most popular ways is by working with a dialect coach. Dialect coaches work with speakers to help them understand what they are doing with their mouth and tongue while they speak and what they need to be doing differently to sound the way they are hoping to sound. Dialect coaches working in entertainment typically coach actors to speak in the general American or "BBC English" version of English, as this is most widely necessary for their careers.
If you cannot afford to work with a dialect coach, something you can do is to watch movies and listen to podcasts and attempt to imitate the accent you are trying to learn. By working on your own and listening to recordings of your speech, you may be able to pinpoint where you are making errors and figure out how to fix them.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.