Accent-reduction service finds central location
A graduate of The University of Texas set out to utilize her linguistics degree and ended up opening her own business that helps individuals improve language skills.
Jane Rupp, owner of Voices of the World Speech Therapy, spends her days helping Austin-area residents with accents better communicate with other English speakers.
"I've always been interested in accent reduction because of my background in linguistics. You learn a lot about languages in general, and speech therapy was the practical application of my linguistics background," Rupp said. "In the Austin area there wasn't much [therapy] in accent reduction, so it's really kind of an untapped area of need for a lot of second-language learners."
One misconception Rupp said she is quick to dispel is the notion that she is somehow taking away part of someone's culture by coaching them to lose their accent.
"Many think that people are going to lose their culture if they do accent reduction, but really the way that I think of it and the way that my clients think of it is it's more of a pronunciation teaching that you never got in school," Rupp said.
Many people come to Rupp not to distance themselves from their culture but to be better understood among new friends in the community and in the workplace, she said.
Rupp's programs also help those who wish to enter show business without a distinctive accent as well as students who struggle to communicate during school because of their strong accent—basically anyone whose speech issues are language-based and not a result of a disorder, Rupp said.
Many classes for non-native English speakers focus more on teaching vocabulary words or grammatical rules instead of the proper pronunciation, and that is where Rupp said her help comes in handy.
"One of the main things that I hear is that they're frustrated they didn't learn this 20 years ago when they started learning English," Rupp said. "I love to see the light bulbs go off with people when you tell them about a word that has a different pronunciation than they thought, and they go, 'Wow that's why no one's been understanding me when I say that word for the past decade.'"
For a typical client who meets with Rupp once per week, she said the accent-reduction program lasts between five to six months, and others who meet with her twice per week can complete the program in about two to three months.
Sessions last 75 minutes each, and the entire program costs about $2,500, Rupp said.
Why is accent reduction important?
Accent reduction speech therapy allows non-native English speakers to learn unfamiliar sounds that are required when speaking English. For example, native French speakers do not typically incorporate the "th" sound in their language, so while speaking English that same "th" sound may unintentionally have more of a hard "t" or "-ze" sound.
- Vowel changes: "sit" sounds like "seat," "cup" sounds like "cop"
- Consonant changes: "they" sounds like "day," "yell" sounds like "gel"
- Devoicing of final consonants: "card" sounds like "cart"
- Word stress errors such as "re-a-LIZE" for "RE-a-lize"
- Vowel and diphthong changes: "pain" sounds like "pen," "bad" sounds like "bed"
- Final consonant deletion: "can't" sounds like "can"
- Deletion of "n": "signed" sounds like "sighed"
- Deletion of "r" after vowels: "cart" sounds like "caught"
- Pronunciation of each word separately rather than attempting to link words together
- Vowel changes: "last" sounds like "lost"
- Consonant changes: "thin" sounds like "tin," "wet" sounds like "vet"
- Retroflex tongue position (i.e. tongue curled back) for many consonant sounds such as "d" and "t"
- Unstressed syllables not reduced: "today" sounds like "tuh-day" in American English but may sound like "too-day" in Indian-accented English
Source: Jane Rupp, Voices of the World Speech Therapy owner
Relocation from Round Rock
Rupp said she decided to move Voices of the World Speech Therapy from the Round Rock area to a Central Austin location because she received feedback from clients that they could meet more often if she was located in Austin. Meeting more often can help Rupp's clients graduate from the training and see desired results faster, she said. The move also comes at a time when Rupp said she hopes to get her name out in the community to those who have not heard of her previously because of her former location. She said she hopes to receive more new clients with the large and diverse population that Austin offers.
Voices of the World Speech Therapy, 5818 Balcones Drive, Ste. 200 ,512-431-7331, www.accentreductionaustin.com