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Accent Reduction Courses In Demand

Some businesses have thrived in the slow economy. For example, discount dollar stores have done really well the last few years. Today, we have a story on another sector of the economy that's holding its own. It's the accent-reduction industry. Speech and hearing centers in the Charlotte area are quite busy training people to lose their accents. As WFAE's Christina Austin reports, the students who take these courses look at them as a way to overcome their own economic challenges. At UNC Charlotte, a dozen international students are wrapping up a summer course. "A singer once went to Vancouver," the teacher says to the students. They all repeat in unison: "A singer once went to Vancouver." And so it goes: Thinking the move would improve her (thinking the move would improve her). But the trip was so long (but the trip was so long), and her voice grew so strong (and her voice grew so strong), at Toronto they had to remove her (at Toronto they had to remove her). They're all part of a program that prepares them for an English language test. They need to pass this test to gain full admittance to the university. Jackeline Carvajal is a 27-year-old student from Venezuela. "Right now I'm thinking about nursing. It's different, but because I am moving to another place and another country, I changed everything." This pronunciation class is similar to accent reduction classes in the area. These accent reduction classes cater to professionals who are usually in their 30s or 40s. Some are Americans who want to change their regional accents, but most are from other countries, like Galina Proydakova. She left Russia 10 years ago. She also recently signed up for a minimum10-week course with Carolina Speech Services. Today, she's working on the "ch" sound. "I had a chat with the chief," Proydakova repeater to her trainers. Proydakova has her own cleaning and massage business. She is taking this class to help her communicate with clients. "I think I have some problems when I talk with people on the phone. I think I need some help with this." Future sessions will also focus on American lingo. For example, linking "What do you think?" to "Whadaya think?" There are at least four businesses that offer accent reduction classes in the Charlotte area. They're usually private sessions one hour a week that last three to six months. They're not cheap. At Carolina Speech Services, sessions range from about $100 to $230 an hour. And business is good, so good that a year ago Carolina Speech Services separated its speech therapy and accent reduction services. To meet the demand, director Laquinta Khaldun says she's had to hire seven more speech therapists since January. "We've seen our demand probably increase between 40 and 45 percent cumulatively over the months," Khaldun says. Some of these businesses take their clients outside the classroom. Angie Rikard of Charlotte Speech and Hearing says she takes clients on field trips to places like a restaurant or grocery store. "Sometimes I'll meet a client for lunch and just let them practice ordering, speaking with a novel speaker," Rikard explains. "Eating lunch is a good one because often waitresses are busy and they're moving quickly and the person has to really concentrate on their speech." Dean Harrelson is a Wells Fargo finance manager uptown. He's from Sumter, South Carolina, though it's hard to tell. Year ago, a boss "highly suggested everyday that I lose that damn accent." "My first job out of undergrad, I was a stockbroker. So I was 22 years old trying to sell people stuff over the phone. And the people that hired me strongly suggested that having a strong Southern accent would be detrimental to my success in this career." He didn't take any classes. Instead, he imitated one of his bosses. "I happened to sit next to one of the managers who had sort of one of those voices that's non-descript, mid western sort of, not really any distinct accent. So I just listened to him on the phone as much as I could and just tried to mimic what he was doing." Today his accent is gone for good, and that doesn't bother him. "I still consider myself very Southern. I went to the Citadel, that's a Southern school, and I like Southern things." He thinks losing his Southern drawl has helped him move up the corporate ladder. But losing accents completely isn't the goal of accent reduction classes. Again, here's Angie Rikard of Charlotte Speech and Hearing. "Basically, our goal is to help people learn how to turn it off and on," she says. "So when they are at home, they speak with their accent. That is how they communicate and connect with their families. They run just as much risk of families not tolerating the lack of accent as they do a business situation when their accent won't be tolerated." Rikard says clients often come in with an idea of whom they want to sound like. The name Morgan Freeman comes up a lot.