English schools in the USA and Canada

Washington State - Seattle
School:Seattle Learning Academy

Teaching communication is Seattle Learning Academy's passion and SLA teaches communication skills that other ESL schools often don't address. SLA's English as a Second Language (ESL) students benefit from this focus by becoming easier to understand, comprehending more, and increasing their confidence in every aspect of their English communication.

Areas of English as a Second Language ESL focus at Seattle Learning Academy include:
Foreign Accent Reduction/Pronunciation
Business English
Grammar and Writing
ESL for Children

What is accent?
In it's simplest definition, accent is the spoken language patterns from an individual's native language impacting spoken production of languages learned later in life.

The degree of one's accent depends on many factors, including:
first language
age when language was learned and native language of teacher
motor skills
social factors

Research has shown that it is near impossible for a speaker to acquire native-like pronunciation in languages learned later in life, but that improvement in pronunciation is possible and beneficial.

Aspects of Accent
People often think only of the way a speaker pronounces a sound as being the distinguishing characteristic of a person's accent. This is not true.

Sound is very important, but the way sounds are combined into words and sentences must be taught in addition to sounds. All of the components of speech greater than individual sounds is (are?) called rhythm.

SLA's systematic teaching method identifies and teaches the 43 different sounds of North American English.

Rhythm can be thought of as everything bigger than an individual sound and is divided into the broad categories of linking, stress, and intonation. Sound creates syllables or entire words. Rhythm is the way words work together to sound fluent and convey the exact meaning of what we are saying.

More about rhythm:

Linking is the way words are connected, or blended together, when speaking. Clearly articulating the transitions between words depends highly on the final sound of the first word and the first sound of the second word. Speakers that blend words together too much are often misunderstood, while speakers that do not blend words together enough sound choppy and less fluent.

There are two levels of stress. First, in words with more than one syllable, the correct syllable must be stressed. When words are combined into sentences, certain words are given more stress than others. Stressing the wrong word or the wrong syllable fatigues listeners and can change the meaning of a sentence.

Intonation is the use of pitch, also know as the rise and fall of the voice. While most speakers are aware that English uses intonation to convey meaning, few non-native speakers know how to correctly make us of pitch. Of all the aspects of English, intonation has the most variables and often is overlooked completely.

SLA Accent Reduction Theory
At the heart of SLA's methods for teaching accent reduction is what we call the Accent Paradox. The Accent Paradox is both the cause of accent and what makes it so difficult to overcome. In order for a person to create a sounds, the person must be able to hear the sound; however, that person will not be able to hear the sound unless he or she can create it. more

The Accent Paradox is based in the research behind categorical perception as it relates to spoken language.

In essence, a baby is born with the ability to distinguish the sounds of any language he or she hears. By the time the child is about a year old, he or she loses that ability, and only the necessary sounds of the language that the child has continuous exposure to remain. Scientists believe the brain's purpose for this innate categorization of sound is so that later in life when the child hears a word, he or she can more easily differentiate what category the sounds of the word belongs in, and can then better comprehend the speaker despite individual differences between speakers. Sounds that do not correlate with what the person heard as an infant will jump to the nearest sound he or she knows and has a category for. However, different languages use different sounds and therefore have different categories. This becomes an extreme hindrance when a person attempts to learn a new language, especially if he or she has already past puberty (the time when other areas of the brain dealing with language have also fossilized).

Research has found that people can learn to create new categories for non-native sounds if given the correct input. This input includes:
instruction on the motor skills within the vocal tract
visual cues for production
awareness of linguistic differences between second languages and first language
audio contrasts between sounds (Sound Perception Training)
SLA's success in teaching adults to alter their accent and communicate better lies in breaking the Accent Paradox. This is done by simultaneously teaching the student why and how to create new sounds and word patterns at the same time as learn to hear the difference between similar sounds and patterns through Sound Perception Training.

Teaching Methods
SLA's Accent reduction program systematically teaches students how to break through the Accent Paradox to alter spoken language patterns. Students learn about the anatomy of the vocal tract and how to manipulate it for specific purposes. Concurrent with sound production lessons, students receive Sound Perception Training using in-class and online lessons with a database of 5000 audio files. This training teaches students to hear subtleties of accent at the sound and rhythm level and is critical to the success of the student.

Seattle Learning Academy offers three different formats of instruction (one-on-one (20-hour) instruction, 10-week (20-hour) class, 5-day (15-hour) intensive) to fit the lifestyle and budget of each student. All students are encouraged to take a free Accent Assessment prior to beginning class.

The General American Accent
The General American Accent is perceived to be the most neutral of North American accents, and what SLA strives to teach. It is also what most North American dictionaries note in their pronunciations. more

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