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Could you recommend any courses in accent reduction? Or, alternatively, any coaches who give individual (on-line) classes and preferably have experience in working with interpreters?

I've been thinking about this:, as the course is targeted specifically at interpreters. However, I am aiming for an American accent, so this might not the best idea after all, considering that the trainer speaks British English (even though he seems to have some experience with American English, too).

Furthermore, I would also appreciate general advice. Any thoughts on training methods and learning strategies in this respect? Any reflections on what matters most in the booth? (Besides the widespread opinion that the interpreter should speak clearly and comprehensibly and may have a slight non-native accent.)

asked 28 Feb '17, 17:31

Joanna's gravatar image


edited 28 Feb '17, 17:33

Here's an exercise for improving your accent, rythym and pronunciation:

Learn off-by-heart and mimic 1-2 minute extracts from, interviews, speeches and stand-up comedians in your active languages. Repeat not only the same words but copy the speaker’s sentence intonation and pronunciation. Learn one or two per week and each week check that you still know all the extracts from previous weeks. Learning by heart and imitating will help you develop the correct sentence intonation and rhythm when speaking your active languages. Both are very difficult to learn and often give away foreign speakers who otherwise have a very good command of the language… …comedians are mentioned here because they often use a more marked intonation for comic effect. This will be easier to copy. Also, to sound really authentic you will probably have to feel like you are exaggerating the accent when you speak....but in fact it will not be as over the top as you think.

(From Conference Interpreting - a student's practice book)

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answered 01 Mar '17, 04:09

Andy's gravatar image


edited 01 Mar '17, 04:15

Hi Joanna,

I'm an English B, and accent reduction is a topic I feel strongly about. I think a big part of it is actually to first IDENTIFY those characteristics in your English that sound "accented". These characteristics can be the pronunciation of specific vowels/consonants, words, or general habits in your tones/stress/innovation. Speaking about working with trainers online, the following training method helped me improve my accent.

  1. Find professional ESL trainers who are native speakers with the preferred accent (in my case, North American English). I recommend italki (, although there must be other platforms that help you do the same. It is your due diligence to filter and select tutors based on their experience, specialty, teaching style and online availability. Tutors on italki are generally very affordable, compared with professional pronunciation enhancement courses. Yet in my experience, the quality of individual tutors has always been very impressive.
  2. Tell your tutor that you are training as a conference interpreter. Ask them to hold you against the highest bar possible for non-native speakers. This is because your overall English proficiency and accent are likely much better than the typical ESL client that they have worked with.
  3. Read out a paragraph of English text (preferably formal topic akin to what you say in an interpreting setting). It's important that your tutor has the same text at hand. Ask your tutor to listen carefully, and then critique your pronunciation by pointing out EVERY bit of English that sounds non-native to them. Also hear them demonstrate how they'd pronounce the same word or phrase.
  4. Note down what they point out, digest their feedback, and train your muscles to change the way those sounds/words are pronounced.
  5. I highly recommend recording your online training session, and listen to the recording a few times so your own ears capture the difference. Nowadays it's very easy to record a Skype session, which makes a huge difference in my opinion.
  6. It would also be interesting if you try reading out the same paragraph to different tutors. Very likely, they will point out exactly the same words and phrases that sound "off" to their ears. This would be a sign that you do need to work on those sounds/syllables/words. Take myself as an example: for the word "GOVERNMENT", I tend to lose the N sound in the middle and say GOVER-MENT. I did not realize I was skipping a consonant, until two different tutors pointed out the same thing.
  7. (I have yet to do this step, but am planning to.) Simultaneously Interpret a piece into English. Let a tutor critique your English pronunciation the same way. Their feedback will probably be even more revealing.
  8. Overall, because this method is all about gathering personalized feedback, I'd say it's very effective.

Hope it helps. Would love to hear about other effective training methods!

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answered 01 Mar '17, 14:43

Rony's gravatar image


Rony, thank you so much, this sounds like a really good plan! Would you share some more details, e.g. the length and frequency of classes, the amount and kind of targeted practice between the classes, the number of classes you have taken etc.? Do you use any kind of table/matrix/list of characteristics to write down the feedback you get? Do you ask any specific questions (like what the trainer is supposed to focus on), or is telling the tutor to point out every non-native sounding bit of your English just enough? Could you maybe recommend some tutors (here or per e-mail?)

My methods have so far included self-learning with use of various pronunciation book/courses, taking part in an English pronunciation course back at the university (with some very targeted practice and feedback from non-native but very well-trained teachers), listening to lots and lots of radio/podcasts (and occasional shadowing), reading out texts (and sometimes recording myself, as there are some mistakes I can easily hear even though I keep making them), doing sight translation (where I can control my intonation more easily than in the booth).

(01 Mar '17, 18:10) Joanna

Hi Joanna,

Sure. Happy to share my experience. Overall, I think the specifics in carrying out the plan totally depend on your own judgment of what works for yourself! Should each session be 30 mins or 60mins? Whichever YOU think is better!

If you take an accent reduction course, you're letting an instructor decide what YOU should do based on what worked for others (unless you opt for 1-on-1 coaching). This one-size-fits-all problem is why I think it's more effective to design your own plan and be in charge. I'm sure you'll soon figure out how this exercise best serves your purpose.

[Length and Frequency?] For me, 60 minutes is a good length. Longer than an hour at one sitting would begin to be exhausting. I squeezed a few sessions into the Christmas break of school (I'm currently in the final year of an interpreting course). But your question reminded me that perhaps I should do this more regularly!

[table/matrix/list?] No. I didn't want to give my tutor the extra burden other than listening to my English really attentively. After all, these sessions were supposed to be "instant tutoring" with no preparation needed on the teacher. Recording the session (including the tutor's feedback) made it easier for me to make sense of the feedback in a structured way.

[tutor recommendation] I feel more comfortable letting you shop around and pick for yourself. Why not try out a few different tutors? On iTalki, there's usually an abundance of high-quality English teachers and tutors. But I personally suggest that you should pick someone older and with extensive experience working with advanced learners of English.

[limitation of this exercise] I think this only makes the first step, which is pinpointing what causes our accent to be what it is. When it comes to improving the accent, there is still a long way to go... Andy's advice resonates with me. "To sound really authentic you will probably have to feel like you are exaggerating the accent when you speak..."

(02 Mar '17, 01:19) Rony

This course for interpreters has been given a few times. You could contact the trainer and see if he's running other courses anywhere in the future.

"The road to better English pronunciation starts with developing an ear for the segments and prosody of native speech. This goes hand in hand with feedback on your pronunciation, as you begin (under the watchful ear and eye of the trainer) to break bad habits and construct a new and more native-like accent....

...Dr. Geoff Lindsey has been teaching the intricacies of speech and accents for 25 years. He was a contributor to the Kiel revision of the International Phonetic Alphabet, and a consultant phonetician for the Concise Oxford Dictionary on CD-ROM and his publications include cited research on American and British dialects. His skills in analysing individual speaker characteristics have led to his working on many forensic voice comparison cases. "

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answered 01 Mar '17, 04:06

Andy's gravatar image


edited 01 Mar '17, 04:12


Thanks! As a matter of fact, I contacted Ülle Leis last year as I was very much interested in this course. Back then, they did not decide to offer it again (if I remember correctly, it was organized by the Estonian Association of Conference Interpreters). This year the course is organized under the auspices of VKD (that's the link in my question), and when I discovered it, I wanted to register straight away.

However, now I have some doubts due to my accent and vocabulary being much closer to American than to British English. The trainer seems to have a lot experience, the feedback looks very positive, but I'm just not sure how well the course caters to the needs of those interpreting into American English. I'm a bit afraid that if all other participants (and the trainer) spoke British English, I would start mirroring their way of speaking, which might be counterproductive. But then again, maybe sticking to one variety of English should be the least of my concerns ;).

(01 Mar '17, 04:31) Joanna

Oops... didn't check your link. I think your question about US/UK EN is a valid one. I think being consistent about using US or UK English probably relates more to the vocab you use rather than the accent since you will probably always have a slight foreign accent anyway. You should probably ask Mr Lindsey what he thinks about your attending.

(01 Mar '17, 04:55) Andy

No problem. Actually I wrote to Mr. Lindsey a couple of days ago ;) (still waiting for the reply). In fact, all my research inspired me to ask some questions here :).

I know a slight foreign accent will probably always be there. It seems to me, though, that as as the prosody, rhythm, intonations patterns etc. differ quite a lot between US and UK English, being (relatively) consistent about using one or the other may be relevant not only in terms of the vocabulary. But these are just some suspicions of a non-native speaker, who naturally can only guess what really matters :).

Would you share some thoughts on that (as a native English speaker, interpreter and interpreting trainer)?

I wonder how important it actually is to be consistent in my choice of vocabulary, too. This seems quite tricky in some cases, for example when interpreting an event with participants that may tend to use mixed vocabulary themselves and make their lexical choices based on what words and expressions are more frequent in their respective companies/communities.

When speakers speak in a rather colloquial way (jokes, stories etc.), I interpret them into American English (use of idioms etc.) but I'm not really sure how consistent I am when interpreting in other contexts, nor how consistent I should be.

(01 Mar '17, 15:29) Joanna

You're right, consistency is not black & white. We have to be consistent on a given day, but our language may change on different days (different audiences and subject areas may require different registers of language). The bottom line would be making yourself understood, so avoiding the few terms that are understood differently ( table an amendment, oversight, pants, pissed, etc)

(06 Mar '17, 04:09) Andy
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question asked: 28 Feb '17, 17:31

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