Are Elocution Lessons Still Relevant Today?

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Elocution/ Accent Reduction By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Elocution/ Accent Reduction
Last updated: 25/07/2017
Tags: accent reduction, accent softening, british accent, improve english pronunciation, phonetics

In 2017, in a modern, fast-paced diverse city such as London, it can be hard to imagine where an old-fashioned term like 'elocution' would fit in. After all, isn't it preferable to just speak how we speak, to be natural and authentic?  Do elocution classes even still exist? If so, who are they for, what happens in a class, and what outcome do they have?

Elocution classes most certainly do still exist; it's just that the label 'elocution' itself is used less and less. In its place, we find classes called Accent Reduction, Accent Softening, English Pronunciation and Clear Speech, which would almost certainly have been called Elocution 50 years ago.

Who are they for?
People taking these classes fall into two broad groups: native and non-native speakers of English. Native speakers may have the aim of general clear spoken English: perhaps they have been told in a work appraisal that they speak too quickly, they ‘mumble’ or can’t be heard very well when making presentations. Other native English speakers may, for various practical and personal reasons, want to have the option of speaking in an accent which is different from the one they grew up with. They may have a strong regional accent which makes them difficult to be understood in an international environment, or simply desire to be able to speak with what is considered a more neutral pronunciation.

Non-native speakers of English in the UK or London are generally looking for British English accent training, so often join Accent Reduction courses.  They may feel that their accent (the influence of their first language on their pronunciation) either makes them difficult to understand, or pulls the listener's focus, eliciting questions such as 'Where are you from?', rather than listening to the speaker's words. 

What happens in a class?
Broadly, if we want to sound different, we need to move our mouths differently, so usually in an Accent Reduction class the main activity is guidance towards the correct positioning of the tongue, lips and jaw for the target sounds. These are then repeated and practised, sometimes in front of a mirror and/or with video/audio recording.

A good voice coach gives individual clients detailed feedback and coaching on how to get the sounds right, as not everyone approaches the sounds from the same angle. For example, one person may have the habit of pronouncing the TH sound as an /f/, making the words death and deaf indistinguishable, and another may pronounce TH as /s/, making the words thing and sing sound the same. A good course provides lots of guidance and structure regarding independent practice, as this is crucial for success.

What outcome does the training have?
Ideally, the client leaves the course equipped with a new choice in the way they speak. They should be able to ‘switch on’ the new accent or mode at will, using it at work meetings, in conference calls or if they want to, all the time. Even after the training has ended, the client can top up his or her skills with independent practice, as well as occasional check-in sessions with the voice coach.

Elocution, then, is just a name.  It is an old-fashioned term for a timeless skill: clear, adaptable communication in the workplace and in life, for smoother communication and ultimately, saved time.

Sonya Ross Elocution/ Accent Reduction Tutor (North London)

About The Author

I am a professional voice, speech and accent coach who is passionate about helping you make the most of your spoken voice.
I work on all aspects of the voice, but specialise in Accent Reduction for non-native speakers of English.

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