The rise of ‘accent softening’: why more and more people are changing their voices
Elocution lessons are back in vogue, with many people seeking to disguise their regional accents. But shouldn’t we be beyond this now?
I am in central London, attending an “accent softening taster session” with the London Speech Workshop. Jamie Chapman, the Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle, tells me that I begin my sentences with lots of energy but they fall flat at the end. He claims that passing the spoons will help me “land” my thoughts: “You have to imagine that, every time you speak, you have put something inside your listener’s hand,” he says.
I visit Chapman because, since I moved from Manchester to London two years ago, I have been mocked about my accent, which made me think about softening some of my rougher edges. Regional accents not only indicate where we are from, but can reveal our social class, while a recent study found that broad regional accents can be a barrier to social mobility.
The idea of erasing part of my identity makes me profoundly uneasy, nevertheless, it is something that many people are trying. Superprof, an online tutoring database, has 2,868 online elocution tutors offering one-to-one lessons, and the Tutor Pages, a tutor business directory, reported that, in the three months following 2016’s EU referendum, inquiries for elocution lessons increased by more than 23.5%, compared with the same period in 2015. In the past, elocution teachers offered their clients the ability to speak “correctly” or with “distinction”. Today, businesses – possibly aware of the class connotations – promote their services with more euphemistic words; it’s now about “softening” your accent not changing it and speaking “clearly”, not correctly.