Do you frequently have to repeat yourself to be understood? Is English your second language? Do you have a regional accent that labels you as “different?” No matter where you are from, you can retain your charming differences while opening the door to being understood.
Many accents come from restricted movement. Look in a mirror and talk. If you see little movement in your jaw and mouth, or notice that your tone is flat and pinched, exercises can help. Nasality often accompanies regional accents, and when excessive, can be an unattractive sound. If this describes your accent, exercises can help soften it.
Listen carefully to speakers who have less identifiable regional accents. We learn accents through imitation. One way to modify an accent is to find new models. Listen to news commentators, or to someone whose accent you like and can clearly understand. The more difficult second step is learning to hear yourself. Pay close attention to your vowels. In some parts of the world, people turn one syllable into two: down becomes day-oon and hear becomes hee-yaer.
A recording device can help spark awareness of how others hear you. You can practice modified pronunciations, and once your ear attunes, you will make slight adjustments unconsciously. From that point on, read aloud at every opportunity and actively listen to yourself—listen for the improvement!
A fun way to make vowel sounds less harsh, pinched, squeezed or distorted is to sing. Using any tongue twister, child’s book, newspaper or speech you are preparing, sing! Sing out your written words in big, full tones. Elongate vowels as singers do to fill out the beats. Make up any melody you like.
You can do this in the shower, in your car, or any place you feel free to make big, boisterous sounds. Open your mouth! Singers have great difficulty getting sound out when their mouths are hardly open. Here’s your chance to live out all your singing fantasies! It’s also a great tension releaser.
Your ability to give up comfortable habits will be your greatest asset in developing a flexible, dynamic and attractive voice. During everyday conversations, be aware of your breathing. Do you tighten your stomach muscles and breathe in your upper chest? Is your jaw stiff and your diction sloppy? Awareness will initiate improvement. You will send unconscious messages to your brain and change these old habits.
None of this will change the essential you. Your unique charm will remain because you will only soften aspects of your accent, not rid yourself of it completely. You will feel like a more professional you. When you speak, people will listen attentively because you will be credible and authoritative. People will want to listen to you and converse with you because they can understand you! Have fun being the unique, international you! iBi