If accent holds you back these trainers can help
Arizona Daily Star
By Becky Pallack
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/141947
It seems like a nightmare. You're talking to frowning clients and coworkers who say they can't understand a word you're saying, no matter what words you use to explain.
That's a daily reality for many people with strong accents, speech trainers say, and businesses are adding services and classes to meet the growing demand for accent reduction.
When Xiaoyun Shen spoke to colleagues, "heart" sounded like "hat" and "car pool" like "cah-poo." Colleagues and supervisors asked her to repeat over and over, and strained to understand her.
The 43-year-old Chinese scientist working for a Detroit biotech company said she didn't know she had a problem until her boss asked her to take a 10-week accent reduction class with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Accent Reduction Institute, where she learned about her problem.
"I couldn't do an R or an L — at all," Shen said.
About 12 percent of people living in the United States — and nearly 17 percent of people living in the Tucson metro area — are foreign born, according to the 2004 American Community Survey. And as Tucson's foreign-born population grows, local speech trainers are finding more business in the niche field of accent reduction.
"A lot of people don't even realize one of the reasons they're not being promoted, not going further with their career, is because they're difficult to understand," said Anna Risley, owner and resident coach at The Studio for Actors, 310 E. Sixth St.
Risley, who teaches diction and voice skills for actors, started offering accent reduction in small classes after reading about the popularity of such classes in major cities. Students work on troublesome words until practice makes perfect.
Some of the more difficult aspects for people with accents are vowel sounds and syllables with R, L, B and V sounds, said Leslie Londer, founder and CEO of InSpeech Inc., 5656 E. Grant Road.
Most of Risley's students are Hispanic, but a few are Russian or Japanese, she said.
"More people are realizing that the accent they have is not charming — it's holding them back," Risley said. "It doesn't mean they're going to lose their heritage or their roots, it just means they'll have a card to play when they're in a particular situation when they want to sound more American."
Employers and clients can wrongly interpret an accent as meaning a person isn't qualified for the job.
"Unfortunate though it is, people do judge others by their speech, so our knowledge, our experience, our intelligence is being judged by how we express ourselves," said Mary Elling-sen, a speech pathologist and owner of Ellingsen and Associates Inc.
Customers often see an Irish brogue or a spicy Spanish accent as a cue that someone doesn't know what they're talking about, said Oscar DeShields Jr., a marketing professor at California State University-Northridge, who studies accents among salespeople.
"People look at you as being stupid. It's one of those stereotypes," he said.
When people can't communicate clearly, they may be held back from a promotion or have to repeat themselves constantly, diminishing their effectiveness, Ellingsen said.
Ellingsen, who recently started offering an online accent reduction service, said people who speak English as a second language and people who speak a dialect other than standard American English can benefit from accent reduction training.
Her service includes an individual analysis of the person's current accent. Then auditory training helps clients hear the difference between their sound and the standard sound. Elling-sen said she starts with sounds and then moves through syllables, words and sentences.
● The Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
● Contact reporter Becky Pallack at 573-4224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.