Many students tend to gloss over AU’s 100-level courses. But these classes often serve a valuable purpose, helping to solidify skills that are crucial not only in the academic world but also in most career fields. One of these courses is the practically-driven ENGL 149 (Advanced Speaking and Listening), which features one-on-one training with an accent reduction specialist. The course teaches students how to reduce their accents when speaking in English?giving them an edge up in the job marketplace.
Why would students wish to minimize their accents, which many see as an integral part of who they are? Unfortunately, today’s job market can be very competitive, and having an accent can set up a vicious cycle. When some North Americans hear another speaking English with a foreign accent, they automatically latch onto that ?difference.? Then, even unconsciously, they may treat the accented individuals differently.
In the job marketplace, this can mean fewer job opportunities, poorer treatment, and fewer chances to gain promotions and raises. Worse, some employers paint certain nationalities or cultures with the same brush (?they are all like this?), despite the falsities involved with such stereotypes. Again, even though the attitude is wrong, it can damage the career path of the accented individual.
Finally, although some employers pay identical wages for accented and non-accented employees, they often feel that an accent can compound problems in the firm by causing more ?trouble dealing with clients.? As well, employers fear cultural differences, especially for employees in the customer service industry.
In ENGL 149, AU offers a unique opportunity: the chance to succeed in the challenging art of accent reduction. Course author Peggy Kayne is a well-known accent reduction specialist, and in ENGL 149 she personally works with students to help them succeed and build their confidence in speaking and writing English.
How does this work? There are several ways to ?re-train the ear to the English language,? Kayne says, and It’s not only about pronouncing words properly. Kayne tells students to imagine their mouths like a machine, one that has to learn new ways to open and close as it speaks the English language. For instance, English has a certain up and down rhythm to it. Recognizing this rhythm is an important step in mastering accent-free speech.
Unlike many other English language courses, ENGL 149 doesn’t only teach students about what makes a language sound a certain way; rather, it trains students to pick out what is wrong. And of course Kayne ensures that students are aware of common spelling errors so that they won’t make these errors themselves.
Kayne likens her course to the opposite of what actors do to learn foreign accents. ?Actors get watched closely to pick up an accent,? she points out, and ?this course teaches the reverse!?
To help students achieve success in accent reduction, ENGL 149 uses self-directed learning via CDs as well as regular one-on-one tutorials with Kayne. Using the CDs, students listen to conversations and then ?have to interpret [them].? Sometimes the meaning is carefully hidden in the sentence, meaning that students have to master nuances to sort it out. It’s all about ?being aware,? says Kayne.
Peggy Kayne holds a degree in Speech Therapy and Education, and has been on AU’s staff since 2000. Since 1989 she has been following her dream of helping ESL students and newcomers to Canada learn English?and use it to their advantage.
For more information on ENGL 149, visit the course website.