Over the past 12 years doing Accent Reduction work full-time, I have learned that the “what” of the work is not the hard part for clients. People realize that they will have to work on challenging sounds, intonation, and word stress.
What’s much more challenging for people is the “how” of the work … that is, how do you apply yourself to actually change your speech as opposed to just doing a bunch of mindless exercises with isolated sounds and words?
That’s where people are different … but notice I didn’t say unique. That is, there are several different “kinds” of ways people are differently successful in this work.
Some people have a very specific goal. When you come to this work with one or two specific goals, it’s easier to be successful if you are busy person and your desire is less about getting a really great American accent and more about not having to repeat what you say or having your intent be misunderstood. You might realize the /r/ sound is really challenging for you, and you want clarity around that. You have difficulty knowing which /th/ sound to use (voiceless like “thanks” or voiced like “other”). That’s a specific goal. Wanting to sound better or fit in with your peers is not a specific goal (it’s a good start, but not specific enough if your are this type of person).
Some people have a very big general goal and the commitment to get there. If you realize success takes time and work, and you are fully committed to those things, you can also be successful in this work, but the long haul is the key. You realize you won’t finish the goal in a few weeks, but you set milestones and monitor your progress, and then you keep setting more, and you stay motivated, celebrate your successes, and take breaks before re-engaging. You never lose sight of your bigger, overarching goals. This works too! It doesn’t work if you are not that fully motivated and committed.
Some people do this work as a means to an end. If you are told by your boss that improving your accent 20% will get you a raise or promotion, and that’s what you want, then you will do it provided that you get the reward. That’s not a bad thing. It’s practical and will keep you on course. It’s also specific, but it’s less about your internal motivation and more about achieving the goal someone else has targeted for you. It’s ok as long as you’re ok with changing your accent (that is, it doesn’t bother you). Others will understand you better, and you get the raise or promotion. Win/win!
There are other ways in which people approach this work differently, but knowing what you want and having realistic goals for the level of motivation, effort, and commitment you put into it is important. Be honest with yourself.
The other part of the “how” is asking yourself to what degree do you “dive into the exercises” and to what degree do you spend time assessing where you are currently at each day? I encourage clients to spend far more time internally processing and assessing their habits, movements, and “go to” strategies over completing more exercises. Mindfulness is the key to change.