|Book of the Month|
|Mastering the American Accent|
Publisher: Barron's Educational Series
Author: Lisa Mojsin
These days an EFL teacher will often tell you to focus on speaking clear, error-free English and not to worry much about your accent. It is not just that no-one today can agree on what a 'proper' accent should be, it is that most teachers will tell you that there is no such thing. So why should someone want to master the American accent? (Also, to be picky one might ask why 'the American accent' rather than 'an American accent'? The folks of Boston sound very different from those in Alabama who are different again from Californians.) Still, sometimes having the right accent can help to put people at ease in a business meeting, or help someone settle into a new neighbourhood ('Howdy folks!'). Whatever the reason, this book has sold well enough to be into a third edition (this review is for the second).
The author of this book is a speech expert. Rather as a standard British accent used to be called 'BBC English' after the broadcasting company, the standard accent that the reader should aim at here is a 'CNN accent' after the Cable Network News channel. The author has identified thirteen major language groups and the different speech patterns that need to be changed to make them conform with standard American English.
Given the amount of material she has to get through,the author has done well to keep the text down to 210 pages, although these are in the large A4 format. (This is not a book you can tuck into a jacket pocket to read on the bus.) However, the printed pages are only part of the book. Whereas previously the exercises and spoken material would have been 'on the accompanying CD' the publisher Barron's has gone the 21st century route, and made the supplementary material downloadable from the internet. These exercises - with a variety of men's and women's voices are necessary as the author's approach emphasises practice and repetition. In the book little circles show the online track number that you should listen to along with the text.
The book has nine chapters, which start with the basic vowel and consonant sounds before moving on to things like timing, intonation and syllable stress. The final section is putting it all together to sound like a native speaker (of CNN, not necessarily Texas or Kansas.) There are little tip boxes which have helpful suggestions called 'Advice from a successful student'. The only pictures in the book are drawings which show where the tongue should be to make a particular sound. One weakness of the book is that a native Spanish speaker can effectively ignore most of the tips to correct the speech differences of someone who speaks a far eastern language, and both can ignore many of the tips aimed at east Europeans, and so on. In a way this book would work better as thirteen separate books called 'Mastering the American Accent - Spanish-speakers edition' and so on.
So who is this book for? Basically it is for those people who have relatively good grammar who want to feel that they do not stand out while talking to native-language American English speakers. This may be because clarity and accuracy are important, or because it makes the speaker feel more confident. It may also be that an American-sounding accent will help with the speaker's employment. Overall, accent correction is rather like cosmetic surgery. You may not need it, but if it makes you feel better about yourself, why not?
Verdict: Verdict – Definitely helps to learn an (not 'the'!) American accent.
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