Changing One’s Speech, Like Actors Do

By Caitlyn Nix

Ever wondered how you could get rid of that strong West Texas twang or any type of accent that makes you think you sound different than the people around you?

This feat is frequently accomplished by actors. For example, Renee Zellweger changed her Texan accent to sound British in her role as Bridget Jones, and John Boyega changed his British accent to sound American in his role as Finn in “The Force Awakens.”

Texas Tech’s Speech & Hearing Clinic can help. It offers therapy sessions to teach patients how to mold their accent into a standard English one.

Accent

Illustration from Canva.com

Angela Van-Sickle, a speech language pathologist and an assistant professor at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, has been in this line of work for 24 years. She also recently completed her doctorate.

“We as students learn all about language and speech throughout our master’s program,” Van-Sickle said, “We learn about articulation, voice, resonance, all the things that make our speech sound the way it sounds.”

When it comes to accent reduction, Van-Sickle said she and her students listen and analyze a person’s speech to figure out what he or she is doing differently than speakers with a standard English accent.

Most people want to be in accent reduction therapy because they have a foreign accent, she said, but there are also some who have sought help to reduce their southern accent.

Modifying a native speaker’s accent can be especially challenging.  There are usually patterns to people’s speech, but Van-Sickle she has not yet found a pattern to southern accents.

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Caitlyn Nix/The Hub@TTU

First-year graduate student in speech and language pathology Tahira Gibson has worked with one client on accent reduction.

“We work on modifying vowels and consonants as it pertains to tongue placement and sound duration, among many things,” Gibson said. “It’s crazy how those two seemingly small things can make a person sound like they have an accent.”

Gibson said they teach placement of sounds in the mouth, drill words, and practice reading messages and also work within the context of a conversation.

“It’s so cool to have a patient listen to a recording of themselves before and after accent modification therapy and hear how their work has paid off,” Gibson said. “It’s a great experience.”

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