As a global workforce seeks a local perception, accent reduction courses in Los Angeles are gaining popularity. The cost can be high, and as linguists have noted, comprehensive results can be time consuming and based on years of exposure and interaction. However both egregious errors can be fixed or at least identified, and confidence can certainly be aided n the short-term.
Here are some excerpts from an interesting LA times article on the subject: Article
-Regarding the surge in Accent Reduction Courses in LA:
Accent reduction classes have been around for years, but linguists and teachers say an increasingly multilingual workforce is prompting a surge in enrollments. The American Speech-Language Hearing Assn. reports a 15% increase from 2005 to 2006 in the number of inquiries. Private tutors said they answer calls almost daily from prospective students, when just a few years ago the phones rang only periodically.
Author Amy Gillett said that sales of her book and CD set, “Speak English Like an American,” have tripled in the last few years, from 1,500 copies after its 2004 release to nearly 5,000.
Some courses report waiting lists; others have brought in additional instructors to meet the demand. Judy Ravin, president of the Accent Reduction Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich., said she has hundreds of students, including employees of General Motors and Cisco Systems, who follow her program, “Lose Your Accent in 28 Days.”
“As our workforce becomes more and more global,” she said, “these classes are becoming more and more popular.”
Accent reduction students said they are self-conscious about how they sound and whether their accents are limiting their job opportunities or stunting their social lives.
Some linguists are critical of accent reduction classes because they give students false hope that they will lose their accents. Eliminating an accent is difficult, experts said. Dennis Baron, a linguistics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he thinks taking courses is a waste of money. Calming an accent, he said, takes years of interaction with native English speakers.
-Regarding the Student’s perspective:
Martinez, who graduated from college in the U.S., said he often led training sessions as an Herbalife distributor and worried that people were listening to his accent more than his message.
“As soon as you sound foreign, people do give you a different reaction,” he said. “People do judge you if you have an accent. I’ve experienced it.”
Though there is a general tolerance for linguistic diversity, experts said, English-only and anti-immigrant movements have made even some legal immigrants and naturalized citizens who sound different feel unwelcome.
“The mainstream takes its resentment against immigrants and picks something visible, like accent,” Baron said.
Accents can lead to stereotypes, linguists said. If someone speaks with an accent associated with an Asian language, people may assume they work as engineers or computer scientists. If someone speaks with certain Spanish accents, people may think they are recent immigrants working in landscaping or the hospitality industry.
Some accents are more desirable than others, said UC Berkeley linguistics professor Robin Lakoff. For example, a French accent evokes images of romance and elegance. A British accent — the “Queen’s English” version — suggests superiority and sophistication. An Australian accent brings to mind adventure and fun.
“Whatever the nationality suggests to us, the accent does too,” Lakoff said.
A distinctly American accent, Lakoff said, is one that has no Southern drawl, no Midwestern twang, no Brooklyn bellow. Truth be told, she said, it’s how Californians speak. Basically, the American accent takes all the distinct regional dialects and flattens them, she said.
Under U.S. labor law, employers can make job decisions based on accent only if it interferes with work, such as in teaching or telemarketing. Every year, a small number of people who believe they are victims of accent-related job discrimination take their complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.