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Lifestyle: What did you say?

Dear Friends and Followers,

Let me make a general statement first: I have many Russian friends and I love and respect their national origin (I cannot wait to go to Russia as I hear it is a beautiful country, too).  However, there is a cliche’ in New York that if you have a foreign accent you MUST be Russian. Let me give you an example:

New Yorker #1: “So Serena you have an accent…”

Serena [thinking “here we go again!”]: “Yep, I do”

New Yorker #2: “Where is you accent from?”

Serena [uncomfortable]: “Hmmmm, Well where do YOU think I am from?”

New Yorker #1 & #2 (together!): “Russia?”

Serena [thinking “oh boy, should I tattoo an Italian flag on my forehead?”]: “Nope, a much warmer place…”

New Yorker #2: “Brazil!”

Serena [thinking “clearly you have not noticed I have a flat butt!’]: “Well I am flattered, but not THAT warm…”

New Yorker #1: “Belgium!”

Serena [laughing histerically and being slightly homicidal]: “Have you ever heard a Belgian speaking English? It does not sound like me. I am Italian”

I could quote approximately 3459 conversations that included some variation of the pattern above…. and it did not bother me that much because everyone kept telling me that my accent was cute and endearing. Until I was selected to be a finalist on The Next Food Network Star… Judges, fellow finalists and even bloggers when the show aired crucified my accent. I normally have thick skin BUT I will never google my name again – it was brutal. I am proud of my first language, Italian, and I do have an accent that is a mix of many others, but does this really make me so irritating? Apparently, yes.

Self improvement is the best thing you can invest in, so I asked around and a friend in the show business suggested that I take accent reduction classes withSusan Sankin.  Going into a speech therapy class can be very intimidating because, really, who is ready to have a stranger dissecting the way you speak? and pointing out your flaws? I was brought up in a family where Southern Italian accent was NOT an option… would all my childhood nightmares come back?

This could have been a horror story but it has a really happy ending: Susan Sankin is a great speech therapist and we have worked together for 1 year. The whole process takes time and patience on both sides (especially hers!) but it does work.  Susan is really kind in the way she corrects my mistakes and makes me hear the sounds that I am missing.  It is a great thing to be able to learn the standard American accent from someone who is not judgmental or intimidating.

My plan for the lifestyle section is to introduce you the best and brightest professionals in different fields, so I leave the screen to my speech therapist,Susan Sankin:

There is nothing wrong with accents.  In fact, people often find accents to be charming, mysterious, or endearing.  However, if an accent interferes with communication, it can become a problem.  I’m in the business of reducing or eliminating accents and over the last eighteen years, I have heard them all!  I have had the privilege of working with many, wonderful, international clients.

I have taught them to substitute their accented sounds with those of Standard American English…the accent without the accent.  By doing so, I have made it possible for them to be easily understood.

I understand that they are frustrated with their speech.  They are tired of people asking them where they are from, repeating what they have to say over and over again because they are misunderstood or not understood at all; missing out on professional or personal opportunities because of their speech.  In some cases, these speech problems have put them in very embarrassing situations.  Perhaps those of you with the accent pattern of substituting the long “eee” and the short “ih” for each other, have had problems when you’ve asked for a “sheet of paper” or a “piece of pizza”.  Oops…not exactly what you intended!

It’s not just people from other countries, even those of you who have a “regional” accent can be hampered by miscommunications.  People from New York, the South, New England, the Midwest-all have distinctive regional accents.  Again, not a problem unless you are trying to work your way up the corporate ladder and/or are evaluated based on your presentation skills.  Or maybe you have the opportunity to play a role that requires you to have a particular regional accent…or lack of one!

How about your voice?  Have you had the experience that so many of us have had when you hear your voice on a recording or voice mail…the cringing disbelief that that is what you sound like?  Are you too nasal, or is your pitch too high or too low, or maybe you are just too loud!

Don’t despair, there is a solution for all of these speech problems. Through a very carefully crafted process of ear training, you can learn to hear the difference between the sounds you are making and those of Standard American English.  Once you are able to discriminate between the two sound productions, you will be able to reproduce the standard enunciation.  Practicing these newly learned sounds in words and sentences will reinforce them.  Conversational practice, with immediate feedback and correction, will allow the new, correct sounds to become habitual.  Feeling confident and speaking clearly can be a very liberating experience.  Finally, people will be able to focus on what you are saying and not on how you are saying it!

If you would like to learn more of if you would like to schedule a FREE consultation, please visit my websitewww.sankinspeechimprovement.com to learn more about me and how I can help you!  If you are not in the New York area, Skype sessions can be arranged.