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Talk like an American: Business of accent training

A sharp uptick in business dealings with American clients is driving growth in the business of accent training. The demand for US accenttrained corporate employees has been high since 2017, says Salman Ansari, CEO of Talent Resourze, a company that provides accent training. Demand has been growing at 15% for the last two years, according to Ansari.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jan 16, 2020, 07.05 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: “Many people learn English, but when you want professional growth, you learn an accent,” says Billa Anirudh, a Hyderabad-based public speaking trainer. Anirudh went for American-accent training classes when he was working at a global bank, dealing with several US clients. He said that picking up a US accent helped him build confidence.

A sharp uptick in business dealings with American clients is driving growth in the business of accent training. The demand for US accenttrained corporate employees has been high since 2017, says Salman Ansari, CEO of Talent Resourze, a company that provides accent training. Demand has been growing at 15% for the last two years, according to Ansari.

Online learning platform Udemy too has several popular courses for learning British and American accents. “Earlier, a manager with a good or neutral accent would speak to US clients. Now, clients want updates from the person assigned to the project. People are put on live projects (only) if they get the American accent test right,” said Ansari.

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The test he is referring to is Versant, an automated test that involves listening to a conversation in an American accent and then reproducing it as close to the original as possible. A pronounced regional Indian accent will mean the test-taker fails, says Ansari. Factors like pitch, cadence, fluency as well as accent are taken into account while scoring. “We try to reduce MTI — mother tongue influence. We teach high-profile vocabulary words,” Ansari says.

Influence of Social Media
“Most customers are already good with grammar, but they need help with vocabulary and sentence structuring,” he adds.

Ansari says that having the right accent helps in getting selected for jobs, getting promotions and even sounding more authoritative. “Directors can’t sound like regular employees. They get more respect and valued when they speak differently.”

Asif Ali Beg, a Mumbai-based theatre and dubbing artist who also does voice training said, “People are not taken seriously if they speak with a regional accent.” Beg says he teaches a neutral accent, but sometimes gives tips on how to sound more British as well, if requested to do so.

The influence of social media is also a factor. “I felt like something is missing in me when I saw YouTube videos (of public speakers),” said Anirudh.

“People want to copy Hollywood celebrities… America affects a lot of people — through social media, web series…” says Hasan Raja, a Delhi-based voice-trainer who said he caters to mostly middle-class and lower-middle class customers. Raja also says that American accent is perceived as “aggressive”.

Ansari said that about 10% of his clientele consists of those who have been fascinated by American accent in movies, and want to sound “good” in parties and while talking to friends.

“There is a lot of exciting content on OTT platforms in English, and consumers across the country look forward to staying abreast with these shows,” says Antonius Raghubansie, Head India, Teaching and Cultural Centres, British Council India. “Social networking is on the rise, and people have access to global friends, celebrities and handles where English is the most common language used for engagement and expression.”

Raghubansie says the increasing popularity of international travel is also a reason people want to learn English and speak it “properly”, so they have a “seamless experience” abroad. “We’ve trained some South Indian movie stars, fashion designers and even Arabs from Dubai with relatives in Hyderabad,” said Ansari. But how easy is to actually pick up an accent?

Many trainers ET spoke to said that they focus on building a neutral accent, rather than British or American accent. “The guiding rule (at the British Council) when it comes to accent is that one can keep their accent and yet be entirely understood,” says Raghubansie. Some trainers even say learning a new accent is next to impossible. Sushil Yadav, a Gurgaon-based English trainer, argues: “Teaching accent is a myth.” He adds that American accents have a lot of regional variations, so there no such thing as a uniform American accent.
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