Learning a neutral accent and DIY speech therapy
February 27, 2013 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I teach for a living but have a lot of linguistic baggage that I'd like to get rid of. Specifically, I have some weird pronunciation/accent issues and would like to speak "General American" or newscaster English. Is this something I can do on my own? What resources should I use?

Super bonus level up points: I also have a slight lisp that I would like to get rid of. I don't notice it until I hear a recording of myself. I also have the front teeth that resemble bugs bunny. Does something like this require a professional therapist?

I thank you in advance for your kind advice.
posted by mecran01 to Education (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, this can be done - you need to contact a speech therapist (speech-language pathologist) who specializes in accent issues. You may find such a person through actors' training resources, as performers use such services often.

Where are you located? My wife has a former colleague who is a professional speech therapist who deals in just these matters, and I can refer you, if you'd like. (She's in NYC.) You can MeMail me for details.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:12 AM on February 27, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry, I am in Utah.
posted by mecran01 at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2013

This is exactly the kind of thing that "speech class" in my acting classes were doing, as well as a number of other generally-helpful things (clearer enunciation, good volume control and projection, etc.).

I'd check at theater or broadcasting schools to see if they offer any class you can take for this purpose. They may use any one of a number of techniques - rote listening-and-repeating with practice, studying phonetics, etc. It is also possible to just self-teach with a lot of practice; but I'd look into these kinds of classes first. But yes, this is teachable (my fellow students in college came in with a hodgepodge of Georgia and Baltimore and Texas and a WHOLE lot of Boston accents, and they all learned decent standard accents within a year or two).

Also - the trade "name" for that kind of accent you're looking for is "Standard American".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yup - seconding the above. Check in with your local college that has a theater program and get referrals to a voice coach(es). Training actors to speak in a colloquial accent is done all the time. Just think of "Standard American" as just another accent to learn.
posted by BrooksCooper at 10:25 AM on February 27, 2013

I find it really helpful when I'm working on an accent to listen to recordings of myself reading outloud in that accent, because then I can hear more clearly what I need to keep working on. If you don't already have a way to record yourself on your computer, Audacity is free and pretty simple to use.
posted by colfax at 10:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, "General American" is the correct name for the dialect the OP is referring to. And I know that because I took a dialects class when I was still trying to be an actor in New York! So if you can't find a more formal speech class through a local university or college (which I'd recommend, because you'll be more likely to have the opportunity to learn some phonetics, which is extremely useful in learning a new dialect), you might try looking around at various acting studios and see if any have a dialects coach who teaches classes.

Nthing that a speech therapist can help you with the lisp. Whether a speech therapist can also help you learn General American will depend on the speech therapist in question.
posted by devinemissk at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia link says "Standard American" and "General American" are synonyms, so both are correct. We called it SAE when I was studying Linguistics in college, so that's how I think of it too.

Anecdotally: yes, you can change your own accent intentionally, but it's hard. I decided some time ago that I wanted the "wh" in words like "what" and "whether" to be voiceless, which is not the case in my native accent. So I started doing it. And, years later, it's very firmly there. I spent a fair bit of time overcorrecting, at first, making normal, voiced "w"s voiceless. Which probably sounded pretty silly. But now I just have a nice new phoneme, and I am happy. I'm trying to figure out something to do with my vowels now. (I pretty much speak SAE, but I don't always *like* it.)
posted by Because at 10:40 PM on February 27, 2013

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