A growing number of speech pathologists have begun catering to clients whose needs are professional rather than medical.
Many speech pathologists across the country are charging $70 an hour or more to help businesspeople communicate more effectively by reducing their regional and foreign accents.
"Speech pathologists are reinventing themselves and looking for new areas and market niches," says John Pennino, MS, CCC-SLP, a Plymouth, Massachusetts, speech pathologist who offers accent-reduction services. "In my opinion, accent reduction is one of the more exciting areas." Many speech pathologists are launching full-time careers in accent reduction, and others are supplementing their current work in schools or healthcare facilities with part-time work in accent reduction, he says.
The demand for accent-reduction services is consistently high as businesses increasingly require workers from all over to interact regularly, says Maria Swatek, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech pathologist at the Park Cities Speech, Language & Hearing Center in Dallas.
A strong accent -- whether it be the leisurely drawl of the South, the fast-speaking style of the Northeast or a Texas twang -- is often an unwanted distraction in the workplace, says Swatek, whose clients have both foreign and American regional accents. "Many of our clients think they're not taken seriously because of their accent, or that listeners are more focused on their dialect than on what they're saying," she says. "There is no 'right' way to speak or 'right' dialect, but speaking in a particular style may afford our clients certain success."
Corporations realize that clear, efficient communication translates into a better bottom line. "In business, time is money," says Nancy Hayer, MS, CCC-SLP, co-owner of Hayer-Vuyk Consulting in Milwaukee. "The more time you spend repeating something to make yourself understood, the less money you'll make for your company."
Some individuals seek out and pay for speech therapy on their own. In other cases, employers encourage employees to undergo speech therapy and foot the bill.
Individuals who pay for accent modification themselves do so for a variety of reasons. One Hayer-Vuyk client, for example, was a Peruvian ophthalmologist who needed to complete a residency in the US before she could practice. The client initially had difficulty interviewing for positions, but found it easier once she reduced her accent.
Most accent-reduction programs last 12 or 13 weeks. A speech pathologist starts by recording and evaluating a client's speech while the two are in conversation and while the client reads words, sentences and paragraphs. The client and therapist compare the client's speech to the style of speaking the client wants to imitate, and then they set goals and formulate a therapy plan. Often, a client spends hours practicing and building vowel sounds into conversation. The client also practices rhythm and intonation. Clients also train by listening to tapes on their own. "It takes a lot of practice and motivation," Swatek says.
Most people aim for the middle-American dialect, which is how most television anchors speak, Swatek says. However, even when clients reach their goals, they don't lose their native accents completely. Clients learn to "code-switch," which means they turn their accent on and off at will. They may want to revert to their native way of speaking around family or friends, for example. "We emphasize we don't want our clients to lose their dialects entirely," Swatek says. "It's who they are and where they're from."