What exactly is an accent? As an accent coach, this is another frequently asked question, not by my clients per se, but by the general public and “allied professionals,” such as English teachers.

There are, in effect, two separate questions. Allow me to answer both in this article.

1) How is an accent defined? 

Many definitions of an “accent” exist.

Most people probably consider an accent to be a feature of one’s spoken language that marks the speaker as “non-native.” We associate accents with non-native speakers, while native speakers “don’t have an accent.”

However, contrary to this common understanding of “accent,” there exist hundreds of native accents, in English and all languages. Regional variations of the way we speak can be drastic or subtle, just like the non-native accents.

According to this second, more accurate definition, everyone has an accent – native speakers have native accents and non-native speakers have non-native accents. An accent simply tells others where you are from, geographically and (sometimes) socio-economically.

2) What are the components of an accent?

There are many misconceptions of what comprises an accent. Some people equate accent with pronunciation, and others equate accent with intonation. Both of these (mis)understandings give only a partial picture of the complex entity of an accent.

Components of an accent include

✓pronunciation

✓syllabic stress

✓ word stress

✓ contrastive stress

✓ intonation

✓ linking/connected speech

✓ rate of speech

✓and more 

The “pronunciation” part is the “segmental level” of an accent (i.e., how the consonants and vowels are produced), while all the other elements are the “suprasegmental level” (i.e., the prosodic features of speech).

Research has demonstrated that working on the segmental or the suprasegmental level of an accent results in a significant increase in speech comprehensibility, showing that both levels are important in accent training.

To recap – Everyone has an accent, native speakers included. An accent is a complex phenomenon, comprising both speech-sound production and prosodic features.

In accent training, our focus is always on communicational effectiveness, not accent per se. Ready to achieve confidence and effectiveness in your English speaking skills? Contact me today for a complimentary consultation.

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