Regional accents can indicate where someone is originally from, and in some cases, people may wear their accent with some pride in their heritage, while some may need to reduce their accent for an acting role or presentation. However, other people may find that having a regional accent affects your professional or educational development or makes it difficult for you to communicate with others. If you find that your southern accent creates an unwanted impression on others or interferes with your self-esteem or success, you may want to learn to speak with a more neutral accent.
Method 1 of 3: Practice on Your Own
Step 1. Develop a large vocabulary
To get started, read glossaries of "colloquialisms" or southern vocabulary. Learning more about your own speaking habits will help you recognize when you acquire a more "southern" language pattern. Then, use vocabulary development books to find more neutral alternatives to replace these local colloquialisms.
- Start a vocabulary journal as a way to help you learn and remember new words. Focusing on new words will force you out of your accent comfort zone and further help you present a more polite and professional image.
- For example, minimize the use of "ain't" and "y'all" and replace them with "am not" and "you" or "you all", respectively. Also say "preparing to" and not "fixin 'to".
Step 2. Work on your grammar and sentence structure
There are some grammatical constructions that, in addition to appearing singularly southern, are incorrect or confusing to non-southern people. Use concise and concrete language to give directions or descriptions.
- For example, avoid using an additional pronoun in instructions: "Go get you a stapler from the supply room" emphasizes a regional dialect, while "Go get a stapler from the supply room "is simple and correct.
- Don't use double prepositions, such as saying that an object is "up under" something, but instead just use the preposition "under."
Step 3. Pronounce vowels and consonants more clearly and quickly
Southerners tend to speak more slowly than Northerners, so increasing your pace a bit can offset the impression of a slurred speech style.
- "Cut" the vowels. The vowel I is often extended in southern speech styles, known as "ligature suppression." So when saying the pronoun "I" ("I"), for example, pronounce it with a sharper "ai" instead of a softer "ah".
- You can try speaking with your mouth in a more circular way to achieve the effect of rounding the vowels rather than flattening them. Try it with the word "wine" so that you say "waiyn" instead of "waihn."
- Emphasize the second syllable in words like "cement" and "umbrella". For example, the word "cement" should be pronounced "sah-MENT" instead of "SI-ment".
Step 4. Pronounce consonants and vowels in the center of words
Omitting letters doesn't sound so professional, plus it indicates a regional accent and thus gives a less refined impression. For example, pronounce the R in "library" so that you don't say "liberry." Other examples are the Y in "crayon" and the second A in "caramel" ("caramel"). Without those letters, they sound like "craun" and "carmel".
- Include the / ng / sound at the end of verbs and gerunds (for example, "walking" or "walking") so that you say "Are you walking to the park?" ("Are you walking to the park?") And not "Are you walkin 'to the park?".
- For short phrases like "going to" and "want to", be careful to include both words and not say "gonna" and "wanna."
Step 5. Read a book on modifying accents
There are some specifically designed to help you reduce your Southern accent, such as Say Goodbye to Your Southern Accent, which is a set of a book and a CD. These texts provide information and practice exercises to help you change your language patterns through exposure to neutral dialects and repetition exercises.
Step 6. Practice mimicking your new accent in private
You may feel nervous about practicing in public at first, so try a repetition method that will allow you to feel more comfortable. Try listening to new national radio broadcasts and repeating the prayers as you drive to work, run errands, or work around the house.
- Consider recording yourself repeating the words or reading some text. You can then listen to yourself and take notes about your problem areas, and then you can retry the entire process until you are comfortable with modifying your southern accent to a more neutral one.
- Look in the mirror so that you can monitor the shape of your mouth when you speak.
Step 7. Practice your new accent with a friend
Find a friend with a more neutral American accent and ask for their help. Make plans to meet in a comfortable place where you can talk about a variety of topics (for example, at a coffee shop or shopping) and explain that you intend to practice speaking with less accent.
- Determine with your friend how you will practice. You could ask if he detects any words that seem to have a particular accent, and you can practice repeating those words to your friend with a more neutral accent.
- Also, you could just have a regular conversation with your friend, and he might stop you from time to time to point out accented language or southern colloquialisms. Then they can discuss and try new ways of saying the same thing.
Step 8. Practice using your new accent with strangers
While trying out your new Standard American dialect with strangers might seem awkward, it's a powerful way to practice in real-life situations. Try talking to baristas in coffee shops, waiters in restaurants, store clerks, and flight attendants, as you may not see these particular service personnel again, and you can avoid embarrassment later in case you feel uncomfortable.
Method 2 of 3: Listen to the accent of your choice
Step 1. Take a dialect test online
These tests, in addition to being interesting, can show you several terms specific to the region to denote everyday objects or activities. Knowing these very specific terms will help you avoid them and thus not sound particularly "southern."
- The New York Times Dialect Survey is a popular test and detects your dialect using mostly vocabulary.
- In case you are looking for a wider variety of accents, you can find several surveys and tests on accents from around the world, as well as varieties of English.
Step 2. Listen to radio stations and news programs that use a more neutral American accent
Music DJs on radio are trained speakers, but they often use the regional dialect associated with their audience. Instead, listen to programs that are broadcast nationally in the US because those hosts practice speaking in a more neutral and colloquial dialect.
Step 3. Watch informative TV shows
National news networks in the US (eg, CNN, MSNBC, and FOXNews) have presenters and hosts who have been significantly trained in modifying their language patterns. They speak clearly and with engaging enunciation, and are a good model for the standard dialects of American English.
- Also, watching news anchors speak gives you the opportunity to see how these trained speakers form words with their mouths.
- Documentary television channels with voiceovers (for example, The History Channel, NatGeo, and Animal Planet) are also good options because the narrators are often trained actors.
Step 4. Participate in conversations with friends or colleagues
The most powerful influence on your accent comes from your peers in everyday interactions. Therefore, the more you listen and respond, the more confident you will not only know what a neutral American accent sounds like but also speak using it.
Step 5. Ask a friend with a neutral accent to read aloud to you
If you're having a long car trip or have a little free time, just listening to someone read in a standard American accent may help. You can control the topic by choosing a text from your area of interest and you will be exposed to a higher quality vocabulary, even in the simplest books.
- Opt for texts that relate to the area of your life that will benefit from a modified accent (for example, your profession).
- Consider choosing a text about accent modification so that you have the double exposure of a neutral accent and the information about the modification of yours.
Step 6. Listen to an audiobook
Audiobook storytellers are usually trained actors who can speak clearly and with a standard American accent, as well as other dialects. Listening to them read a book can be enjoyable and informative, especially if the text includes multiple dialects and accents.
Various texts on accent modification are available as audiobooks and include practice exercises that you can do while listening
Method 3 of 3: Train with Professionals
Step 1. Determine if you need to seek professional training
In case your colleagues or friends are having trouble understanding you, even though you've been practicing on your own, it may be time to ask a professional speech therapist for help. Speech pathologists work with clients on speed of speech, rhythm, intonation, speaking, conversation, and accented sounds.
- Many of the larger universities have good quality speech therapy offices, so check with a local university first.
- Find a certified speech therapist using the search tools of non-profit speech therapy organizations.
Step 2. Research professional options for modifying accents or dialects in your area
Do a basic internet search for "accent reduction", "accent modification" or "dialect modification" plus your locality name. There are some resources that provide individual training, while others offer group classes.
- Group classes may be helpful if you want to practice your accent with a wider variety of people.
- Individual sessions are an option if you want to develop more confidence before practicing with other people or if you need a more flexible training schedule.
Step 3. Get in touch with the speech therapy organization or professional you have chosen
There are some practices and professionals who will require a telephone consultation to assess your needs and goals before you begin training.
Step 4. Go to your first date
The speech pathologist will first assess your speech patterns to help you meet your particular goals. He will ask you to read texts and words of various lengths and will also strike up a conversation with you. He will listen to your pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and stress of the syllables. Also, the speech therapist will listen to your language in conversation.
Step 5. Set your goals for accent modification
Together with your speech therapist, determine your goals for the accent modification process. These goals should be based on your personal and professional needs and also on your assessment of your southern accent.
- Some goals are strongly related to the profession (for example, preparing for presentations, performances, or interviews). You should be as specific as possible during this conversation with your speech therapist.
- In some cases, your later sessions will focus on achieving these specific goals, and therefore you should be clear about them at an early stage. You can also make adjustments on the fly as your skills and needs change.
Step 6. Don't stop practicing, even after your program or training ends
The sounds of your native language, including regional dialects, are marked for when you are one year old. Therefore, you will always have hints of your original accent in your voice. Continuous practice of your new neutral dialect will reduce the effect of your accent over time.
- The term "neutral accent" is not necessarily accurate because all speakers use a dialect or accent of some kind that is related to their background. Other terms for accents that are less regionally marked are General American English, Standard American English, and Standard English.
- It is very difficult to completely remove a southern accent. While you can modify it significantly with practice, an occasional slip from your usual dialect won't make a bad impression, and may be a good conversation starter.
- Watch the movie My Fair Lady or read the Pygmalion play in case you need a light break from your dialect modification practice. Both are versions of the story of a poor, cockney girl who learns to speak "King's English", which is a more refined British accent.
- Don't be dishonest about your background. You may be changing the way you speak, but your personal background is an important aspect of your identity, and if you try to hide it, it could result in your friends and colleagues losing respect for you.
- Regional accents are not considered speech or language disorders, and therefore your health insurance may not cover professional training.
- Consider carefully why you want to change your accent. There are many successful professionals in various fields who have regional accents, and some of them pride themselves on that mark of their heritage.