Accent reduction, also known as accent modification or accent neutralization, is a systematic approach for learning or adopting a new speech accent. It is the process of learning the sound system (or phonology) and melodic intonation of a language so the non-native speaker can communicate with clarity to be understood by the general public of this second language.
Accent improvement focuses on teaching students how to pronounce difficult sounds such as /θ/, /ð/, /ɹ/, /l/, and /w/; intonation, stress, and rhythm. Spanish and Portuguese speakers might add an /h/ before the vowel /ɪ/, as in "his" for "is". Therefore, vowel sounds are also covered in accent reduction training. Practicing of the vowel /ɪ/ most commonly spelled "i" is done by reciting a few of the following differences: his versus is, hit versus it, hill versus ill. By not letting the back of their tongue touch the palate, native speakers of Asian languages (Chinese, etc.) can avoid adding a /j/ before the /ɪ/ for example in speaking "yin" instead of "in". Specialists also use activities, games, and printable workbooks to help students practice what they learn.
Accent reduction training is not the same as ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Accent reduction classes go beyond learning vocabulary and grammar and focus upon clarity of speech and fine tuning a specific accent or dialect. Foreign accent reduction training is typically appropriate for adult learners who have at least a moderate level of conversational proficiency in the second language. Non-native speakers from any background or profession can benefit from accent reduction training. That is not to say that every non-native speaker needs to modify their accent, however. The goal of accent reduction training is to improve speaking clarity so the non-native speaker is understood in the workplace as well as within their community; not necessarily to totally eliminate the accent. Business professionals, physicians, professors, researchers, telemarketers, etc. oftentimes request accent reduction training be provided by their employers so they can communicate more effectively with their colleagues, clients, and customers.
Although accents can be minimized through training, actually eliminating an accent is extremely difficult to master and could take years to accomplish. It is unrealistic to expect total accent elimination in a short period of time.