I was reading about an article in the Journal of Neurolinguistics this week which reported that our brains ability to process accented speech improves when we can correctly identify the accent we are listening to. What exactly does this mean?
Study researcher, Janet Van Hell, a professor of Psychology and Linguistics at Penn State University, noticed that people seemed to be hearing her differently because of her Dutch accent and she wanted to understand the science behind what was happening. She and her co-researcher, Sarah Grey, constructed a study to determine what happens in the brains of monolingual native English speakers when they listen to a foreign accent. A group of 29 university students (with little experience hearing foreign accents) listened to sentences spoken both in their native accent and in a Chinese accent.
Students listened to the sentences while their brain activity was monitored with an electroencephalogram. EEG results showed that the students’ brains responded differently to their native speech versus the accented speech. The researchers also observed that students who were correctly able to identify the Chinese accent demonstrated a more active brain response on the EEG.
What might this study tell us?
Well, it shows that our brains really do process foreign accents differently. Listeners are not necessarily being rude or impatient when they cannot understand your English pronunciation or when they ask you to repeat. It may also mean that the less experience a listener has with an accent, the harder it is for our brains to process.
If you have an accent when speaking English there are some simple strategies that you can use to help the listener understand. We call these strategies SOS.
SLOW Speak with a slow, calm rate. A slower speaking rate allows you time to move your speech muscles form one sound to the next correctly and it provides the listener more time to process what you are saying.
OPEN Open your mouth to let the sound out. When you keep your lips partially closed sounds become trapped and your English pronunciation can sound mumbled. This will ensure listeners can catch everything you are saying.
SAY EVERY SOUND Make sure you pronounce every sound, especially in longer, multisyllabic words and at the ends of words.
For more information about Accent Reduction and English Pronunciation contact Change Your Accent.