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Accent Neutralisation Therapy Has 'Taken Off' In Australia

Accent reduction therapy is being tapped into by more and more Australian employers, students and workers.

Though a lesser-known realm of speech pathology, speech pathologist Kirsten Geraghty told 10 daily "it's really taken off".

Accent reduction therapy (ART) involves teaching the sounds and patterns of a second language, helping to reduce, change or adopt a new way of speaking. This can include working on flow, phrasing and sounds of vowels in speech.

It is also referred to as elocution, accent modification or accent neutralisation.

In her Brisbane practice Vocal Impact, Geraghty said the most common clients she sees are people having trouble with their speech in the workplace.

"I would say about 80 percent [of clients] are work related," she said.

"I had one woman who said 'look, in the lunch room I can't keep up with the conversation and people are asking me all the time what I'm saying'."

It's a common issue, Geraghty said, but recently she said she has seen an increase in employment agencies and employers reaching out to her on behalf of a worker.

Cases have included a teacher from Russia unable to secure permanent work because his students were having trouble understanding him.

Elsewhere, a major telecommunications company with a well-trained and promising employee they wanted to take further have also enlisted her help.

"Some telemarketers have come and wanted to learn just their script and how they can do that in sort of an English way," Geraghty said.

The process generally involves half-hour sessions in which people will learn "the big stuff" which includes the flow, phrasing, pausing and the general tone of what English sounds like, before breaking down "the little stuff", like working on every consonant and vowel.

Geraghty said noticeable changes can typically be seen after six to 10 weeks of sessions.

Sometimes, it's not so much a lesson in pronunciation as it is a lesson in broader communication skills -- including eye contact, body language and intonation -- that clients need.

Other times, people have extremely specific requests.

Geraghty recalled an Israeli banking executive who "wanted to sound like Malcolm Turnbull".

In addition to people already employed, international students are also commonly told they need to "brush up" on their communication skills. Geraghty said she currently had two medical students undergoing ART with her.

While accent coaching is common in the film industry -- where actors spend weeks trying to hide or gain a new accent for a role -- the idea of undergoing the practice in everyday life can raise some eyebrows.

Sarah*-- a first generation Arab-Australian who speaks two languages-- was left feeling insulted and confused when an employer approached her about undergoing speech therapy in order to "get rid of her accent so people wouldn't get the wrong idea."

"That night at home I thought, hang on, what's the wrong idea here?" she told 10 daily, highlighting the fact she speaks fluent English and has never had trouble communicating with anyone.

While she thinks the therapy would prove beneficial for people struggling to communicate in their new language, Sarah is concerned it may give bosses license to "whitewash" their workplaces.

"How my words turn out is just a reflection of who I am," she said.

People don't want to walk away "not sounding like themselves," Geraghty said.

"We're not going to change you and make you sound Aussie, we want you to still be you," she said.

"I'm not one for taking away their self-importance and image and identity. We're trying to find something that suits you, sits well with you, but you still need to feel like you."

*name has been changed.