Monday, March 10, 2008

Sharon Hendricks- Accent Modification

(notes from NSSLHA meeting, March 3rd)

Sharon Hendricks was trained in SLP at University of Washington in Seattle. When she was a grad student, she became a TA for “American speech sounds” for international students, often doctoral students who had brilliant minds and needed competency in English to communicate with Americans. There are many similar students on our campus!

Accent modification is about breaking down these barriers to communication. The goal is not to “reduce” an accent, but increase communication/intelligibility. You can do this with an “accent”, which is an actually interesting and important part of a person. An accent tells about their heritage and their culture; we shouldn’t want to eradicate these. Modification refers to change of behavior, giving tips/tools on how to produce certain sounds or words to be more intelligible.

Sharon works now full-time at LACC, teaching classes for non-native English speakers. There’s a lot of ethnic and age diversity on that campus. There is an effect of age on second-language acquisition; it becomes more difficult because speech sound patterns become imprinted. Many of her students are older Russian women who want to get a job to support their family, but most of their social life is with Russians. Younger people might have a career path in mind.

Components of accent modification:

1) 1) Talk with client to know what/why they want to learn. Most people who do accent modification, do it one-on-one (even though she teaches a class). What do they want to communicate for? How much do they want to learn (functional intelligibility, expanded vocabulary?) Intelligibility really affects your social life because people react to you, you might withdraw from going out into the neighborhood and send your daughter to the store instead. These things lead to emotional frustration.

2) 2) After the initial interview with client: they need to hear the difference between their production and the intended production (e.g. /th/ vs /z/), which is not too different from articulation therapy with kids. If they can’t discriminate the difference, they probably can’t make it. This is especially true for /r/ and /l/. Then, they practice discriminating with minimal pairs (contrasting vowels or consonants). She covers her mouth to prevent visual cues. For example, the “a” in “bad” is very distinct to American English. She teaches them the parts of the mouth (alveolar ridge, hard palate, etc.), IPA, place/manner/voicing, then they go to the speech clinic and practice the sounds that are particular their own language.

3) 3) The biggest component is practice. She emphasizes that her students need to spend a lot of time with native speakers, to listen to radio stations like NPR (clear pronunciation, educational, etc.), watch American movies (hear the dialogue, see context, stress and intonation), ask a classmate out to coffee. It takes a lot of initiation on student’s part; they want you to “fix” them but you give them tools and the rest is up to them. Natural language environments are very important.

LACC has a speech lab. The students come to the lab and listen to different sounds on headphone with native speakers pronounce the word as they practice, recording themselves on the computer so that they can compare productions. This has been really effective.

Books she uses:

“The Communication of Standard American English” by Luter.

“Fundamentals of Voice and Articulation” by Lyle V. Mayer

“Speaking Clearly “by Modisett and Luter

Some arenas to work in accent modification: Private practice, working at a city college or adult school, CORP-span (corporate SLP). For example, she’s giving a talk at Boeing, 10-session series for engineers. Remember, however, that we are not ESL teachers. This is outside our professional scope of practice.

Relevant websites:

ASHA has phonemic inventories for different languages, - speech accent archive, listen to various accents/languages. It allows you to look up the native phonetic inventory of most languages. - great resource for theater/drama students, allows you to listen to accents from all around the world. - gives a visual aid for speech sound production, great resource for demonstrating articulatory placement - nonprofit organization of SLPs who exchange information/resources in order to best serve the arena of corporate SLP. - example of corporate SLP site that offers accent modification among other communication resources.


  1. Anonymous1:47 PM

    The following is a true account of Sharon Hendricks teaching methods: Following final speeches at her entry-level public speaking class at LACC in February 2009, Ms. Hendricks took it upon herself to call out all non-native English speakers in her class and individually criticize them on their accents. Ms. Hendricks then demanded that these same students sign up for her follow-up class. They needed to register for the class that day, she told them, or the class would be canceled. She told her students that she had "done them a favor" by letting them take her entry-level public speaking class, so poor were their accents, as no one could understand them.

    This woman needs to take an ethics class. Also, being dismissed from "teaching" would be suitable.

    Bilingual students need our support, not public ridicule for delivering speeches in a foreign language (ie., English).

    Looking for a skilled, caring professional? Look elsewhere.

  2. Anonymous8:03 PM

    ^^Unbelievable. Unfortunately some so-called "professionals" in this field have developed tremendous egos and could use a few lessons in pragmatics.