Accent Reduction/General American
Why is it difficult [not impossible] to reduce or lose your native accent and adopt another?
The short answer is because you are hard-wired from before birth to speak the native language your mother speaks, and past a certain developmental point, you're somewhat locked in. Change will take work.
Here's the more detailed answer:
John Colapinto, in his well-researched and excellent book, This is the Voice, addresses the issue of changing a native accent. He states that babies are learning lessons on the prosody (intonation, stress pattern, loudness variations, pausing, and rhythm) of their native tongue from their mothers while still in the womb:
" . . . after two months of intense focus on the mother's vocal signal in the womb, a newborn emerges into the world clearly recognizing the mother's voice and showing a marked preference for it." (Colapinto, John This is the Voice, Simon & Shuster, 2021, p. 26).
Colapinto further states that newborns can detect very subtle differences in sounds that adults cannot. They come into the world ready to learn any language. (28)
"But after a few months, babies lose the ability to hear speech sounds not relevant to their native tongue [my emphasis] -- which has huge implications for how infants sound when they start speaking. . . . All of which is to say that the developing brain works on a 'use it or lose it' basis. Circuitry not activated by environmental stimuli (mom's and dad's voices) is pruned away. (28-29)
Babies then learn further details from what Colapinto calls motherese, basically baby talk:
"Pitch peaks on specific words, extended pauses between words, and long-drawn vowels are . . . all part of a system to help babies segment the speech stream, hear how grammar works, and detect the specific tongue and lip positions that distinguish and ee from an oo, or an ah from an uh . . . these prosodic exaggerations are adopted by parents in all cultures and languages and . . . every adult uses them when talking to babies (whether they're aware of it or not). " (37)
All of this is to say that our native accent is "hard-wired" into us in the womb and during our infancy, and past a certain point we lose the ability to easily hear speech sounds not relevant to our native tongue.
If, during the crucial developing phase, you learned to place your tongue on the back of the teeth to say voiced and unvoiced th, then it will take effort and practice to learn to stop doing that, and instead place the tongue between the teeth and draw it back as you pronounce the consonant sound.
This is why accent reduction work takes courageous, concentrated effort, over time, and can be very frustrating. It can be done. There simply is no quick and easy way. Colapinto sites the old joke: "How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Just one -- but the light bulb has to really want to change, and then he points out that "people who want to change their accent after puberty really have to want to change" by submitting to intensive training and practice.
WHAT IS ACCENT REDUCTION?
Accent Reduction is the process of understanding how a person’s spoken English differs from General American speech. General American is a term for the way the majority of American’s speak. It is an accent which does not have any distinct regional or ethnic characteristics.
Whether from another country, or from another region of the United States, some people wish to sound closer to the accent that most American's speak. This can be for reasons of employment opportunities, basic understandability, or for other personal reasons. It can also be for an acting role.
THE PROCESS OF ACCENT REDUCTION
After the individual vowel, diphthong and consonant issues are addressed, drills are given for the client to work on. It takes a great deal of practice to change the physical muscle memory of the way you’ve spoken all of your life. It also requires patience.
American intonation is the next thing to address. This involves:
Listening and Imitation
We learn speech as children by listening and imitating sounds. It is important not to forget this as a tool for learning. Clients are given recordings and/or directed to sources of listening and imitating. This is especially important for American intonation and flow.
How long will it take to sound more American or to lose an accent?
This is difficult to answer because each client is an individual and there are many variables, such as:
Much of the outcome depends on your goal:
Whatever your goal, I can help you learn what you need to work on.
SUMMARY OF SERVICE
* Note: For individual coaching in-studio, those under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.
JAMES BOND ACTRESS, HONOR BLACKMAN, CHOSE ACCENT WORK OVER NEW BIKE
When she was young, the late actress, Honor Blackman's father gave her a choice of a brand new bicycle or lessons to change her Cockney dialect. She chose the lessons. The rest is history as she became a "memorable James Bond adversary" in the film Goldfinger. Here's a link to the full article. (New York Times, April 6, 2020)
Non-American Actors Who Have Learned American Accents
Here are just a few:
Daniel Craig (British)
James McAvoy (Scottish)
Christian Bale (British)
Colin Farrell (Irish)
Damian Lewis (Welsh/British)
Robert Taylor - Longmire (Australian)
Kelly Reilly –Yellowstone – (British)
Nicole Kiddman (Australian)
Eddie Marsan – Ray Donnovan – (British)
Toni Collette (Australian)
Jamie Dornan (Northern Irish)
KJ Apa (New Zealander)
Katherine Langford (Australian)
Alfred Enoch (British)
Yael Stone (Australian)
Rosamund Pike (British)
Margot Robbie (Australian)
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Welsh)
Dominic West (British)
Ruth Wilson (British)
Daniel Day Lewis (British)
Rose Byrne (Australian)
Hugh Laurie (British)
Matthew Rhys (Welsh)
Millie Bobby Brown (British)
Kate Winslet (British)
Idris Elba (British)
Florence Pugh (British)
Daniel Kuluuya (British)
Alan Cumming (Scottish)