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GLENDALE : Speech Students Put Accent on Clear English

March 15, 1994|KAY HWANGBO

Neill Hicks is reviewing the "ow" sound.

"I doubt that she would allow us to eat wontons downtown," a female student reads dutifully from the spiral notebook in front of her, which contains a diagram of a tongue-and-palate formation.

Hicks is an "accent reduction" instructor at Glendale Community College. His students, from Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Sweden and 10 other countries, are the inheritors of a longstanding American tradition of immigrants attempting to modulate their accents. But whereas previous generations of immigrants saw losing their verbal signatures as a step toward becoming "real" Americans, the accent-reduction students at Glendale College say they just want to be understood.

Some even said they want to keep a trace of their accent, as an expression of who they are.

"As long as others can understand me clearly, I don't mind having an accent," said Kris Kim, an engineer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "I'm proud of being Korean."

Just six of the 14 said they would like to speak completely unaccented English. Some wanted to polish their English as a matter of pride, to show that they had achieved success in the language. Others said they wanted to avoid embarrassment and overcome discrimination.

"I don't want to have an accent," said Patricia Renderos, who emigrated from El Salvador when she was 17. "I want to speak like newscasters." Renderos said that as a high school student and homecoming princess in Eagle Rock, she was shunned by the other members of the homecoming court because of her heavy accent. Nonetheless, the Burbank college student, who prefers the Anglicized pronunciation of her name, said she, too, is proud of her heritage.

Jackie Stembridge, an instructor at Glendale College who has taught English as a Second Language for 12 years and accent reduction for six, says that her previous students were more interested in completely eliminating their accents than are her current students. She said the change is probably related to the emphasis in recent years on taking pride in one's culture.

Indeed, some people find the whole idea of accent reduction offensive.

The English as a Second Language division of the college changed the name of its advanced pronunciation class two years ago, from one that had Accent Reduction as a subtitle to simply Listening and Speaking 5.

"You really can't call a course Accent Reduction anymore, because there are people who would object to it," said Kathleen Flynn, director of the for-credit ESL division.

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