Let's say accent reduction is somewhat of a misnomer. Many scholars criticize the term because each and every speaker has an accent; in that sense, what we are trying to do is not really reduce anything, but change it: change your accent so that it sounds more like that of a native English speaker. Therefore, accent modification, or other similar term, might be more appropriate.
But accent reduction is by far the most popular expression, probably because it's been around for much longer, and in fact predates inaugural studies of phonetics and phonology. I have written a blog post to explore one possible acception in which it might still be justifiable even in face of our current scientific knowledge.
Accent is a term that describes the combination of pronunciation, stress, and intonation. Basically, in order to be properly understood, you have to utter the right sounds, place emphasis on the right syllables, and follow a certain rhythm. This is necessary because, by changing any of those, you may change the meaning of an utterance.
It's easy to see that if you utter the wrong sound, you may easily end up conveying a word other than the one you intended. But stress also plays a key role, and there are many instances, for example, of nouns that turn into verbs or vice versa when the stressed syllable changes (think of words like conflict, permit, invite, contrast, among many others). So too can intonation be dispositive of meaning: it can determine, for example, whether you are asking a question or making an affirmation.
If you are looking for the difference between accent and dialect, be sure to check this blog post.
Phonemes are like building blocks: they are the atoms from which any language is created, and the good news is that, even though at least in part they operate in a continuum (which in theory could give rise to an infinite number of contrasting possibilities), any given language employs only relativity few. English, in particular, has only 45 or so, depending on the particular accent you are aiming for – not so many to master, after all.
First, learning about the phonemes that exist in English, including how to identify them in particular contexts, will do wonders to help you speak the language correctly. Too often, non-native speakers mispronounce words not because they don't know how to produce the right sound, but because they're aiming at the wrong target: in essence, they are trying to say something when they should be trying to say something else entirely.
Once the target is correct, changing an accent is a matter of adjusting your precision. Sound differences are sometimes slim between languages, and if you've never studied phonetics and phonology before, chances are you are making at least a few substitutions from your native language into English. We'll work to get rid of those, as well as to get as close as possible to the target sounds across all the various contexts in which they may appear.
Definitely not; in fact, everyone has an accent, including native speakers. The fact that you can tell, for example, Americans and Britons apart by the way they speak is incontestable evidence of that.
That said, there are many reasons someone might want to change an accent, not least among which is that not all accents are equally easy to understand. You might be getting your colleagues distracted, shifting attention from what you have to say to how you are saying it, or generally feeling underappreciated for what you're delivering. All of those are perfectly valid reasons for wanting to sound more like a native speaker.
But they are most certainly not the only valid reasons, and I have in fact dedicated one of my posts to argue against what to me seems like an overly restrictive view that some critics take on the value of accent training.
That's a very personal question. My opinion is that, ideally, you should choose an accent that you like and that is easy to understand for the people you have contact with. In English, I myself have worked to develop a Standard American accent, and that's the accent I teach. It's probably the most popular variety among language learners, and one that is easily understood pretty much anywhere in the world.
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