Sitting at the back of an English class in a high school in Japan, I distinctly remember being shocked that the teacher had such poor English pronunciation - I struggled to understand half of what she was saying! This made me wonder how she could possibly teach others to communicate effectively in English when she herself could not do so. Not only this, but the classes were boring. There wasn't any talking - just reading, writing, grammar and sometimes vocabulary from a book.
After many years of teaching students from all corners of the world, I've heard similar stories to this experience too many times to count. Please don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic teachers out there. However, far too often language is taught like information rather than a skill.
Think back to your own experiences of English classes at high school or college. How much time did your teacher spend training you to speak clearly? And if your teacher did teach you pronunciation more frequently, how can you be sure they were teaching you correctly?
If you think you have missed out on effective pronunciation instruction at school and feel you still need some help to make your speech clearer, then accent reduction training may be something to consider. But, there are so many people around who claim to be able to help, it can be hard to know if you're getting the right coach. So before you sign up for a course, make sure you follow these three steps:
Check your potential teacher's experience and qualifications
Ideally, your teacher should be a trained speech therapist AND an experienced English language teacher. This will mean they understand the neurological processes involved in speech perception and production, and have specialist knowledge of foreign language acquisition.
Ask about the course style and content
Are lessons face-to-face or online? What exactly will you practise? Is the course individualised to your needs or prescribed? How up-to-date is their methodology? Pronunciation training is a field which is constantly evolving. More and more research is being published. This should inform your teacher's methodology so make sure you ask them to explain what research they follow and why.
Request a free consultation or trial
Do this before committing to a full course so that you can meet the teacher and check you are a good fit. It's important that you get along with your instructor as this will most likely result in better outcomes for you in the long run.