Many people believe that accent reduction is for recent immigrants and ESL students. The truth is accent reduction is about building spoken English skills, and anybody can benefit from that, even native English speakers. It’s possible someone could be a native speaker of English, and still have a thick regional accent, or serious articulation issues.
But what about the case of Scott Walker? Mr. Walker is a presidential candidate who is a native speaker of English. He speaks with a thick Wisconsin accent and has reportedly been undergoing accent reduction lessons in order to neutralize his accent and make himself more marketable to a wider audience. Is accent reduction necessary for him?
I would argue no. Mr. Walker’s English is good, and despite his accent reduction lessons, he has not reduced his accent very much, as is evidence from the video above. I would suggest he embrace his accent and use it as way of discussing where he’s from, and what he’s about.
For me, accent reduction is about building English fluency, and avoiding miscommunication. It isn’t about changing who you are. It’s simply about being understood, and feeling a part of the cultural fabric.
As an accent reduction specialist in New York City and New Jersey, I am occasionally asked by students whether learning English better will harm their ability to speak their native tongue. I usually make my point by way of analogy: if you are good at calculus, you can also be good at composition; learning one subject well does not negate the ability to learn others equally as well.
In fact, as Susan Talhouk points out in her speech above, perfecting your mother tongue can enhance your ability to speak a second language. By expanding your ability to express yourself in your native language, you expand your vocabulary base, and thus the possibility for an expanded vocabulary in your second language. The same applies to sounds. Most languages share a core set of sounds, so by learning the specific sounds of your native tongue well, you increase the likelihood of pronouncing the sounds of your second language accurately.
So don’t be daunted by the prospect of being bilingual! Excellence in more than one language is possible.