In June 2014, The London School of English took part in the television programme Headline London. CEO, Timothy Blake, sat in a live debate about accents.
You have to distinguish between a native speaker changing his or her accent and a foreigner who may want to do so. Because accent is intimately related to someone’s personal and social identity, most native speakers do not want to change, although some want to do so, perhaps to integrate professionally or to be more socially mobile. However, for a non-native speaker, there may be a clearer need to change in order to communicate more effectively.
This may focus mainly on learning to speak more clearly – to pronounce words so that they are easy to understand. But remember that ‘accent’ is not only pronunciation. It’s also intonation, and this is particularly important for a non-native speaker because intonation can be a key way of conveying feelings and attitudes and the way this is done varies from language to language. If a non-native speaker makes mistakes with grammar or vocabulary, or has a foreign accent, this may not matter much as long as they can be understood. The listener will make allowances for this. But if their intonation makes them sound rude, or bored, or hostile, this can matter a great deal because the person they are talking with will probably assume that this is how they are really feeling. They will probably not realise that this may be completely misleading.
English has become a world language so learning a traditional British English accent is not important. But there is no doubt that accent plays a key role in communication: a poor accent is hard to listen to or may give a misleading impression; a good one can make communication a pleasure and can as a result win friends for the speaker. Whether they are native speakers or not, those who chose to receive voice training can achieve more credibility, more confidence, and often better job opportunities. A modest investment in this area can be very cost-effective.
Timothy Blake is the CEO of The London School of English. The school receives more than 2000 language learners a year. Native as well as non-native speakers of English may choose to receive voice training.
View the programme Headline London.