The course consists of 152 exercises (also known in Moodle, the online e-learning platform, as quizzes) covering all the vowels and consonants in the English language. Learning the correct pronunciation of the vowels and consonants is the key to a good English accent. The course increases the learner’s intelligibility and their ability to hear what is being said to them in English.
The Accent Labs course has proven to be particularly suitable to help improve the accents of young Black South Africans. The original accent modification e-learning course was developed in 2012 and refined during 2013 when Harambee, the NGO job accelerator, started to use the course. The course was tailored to Harambee’s needs in that all the exercises focused on the vowel sounds, which is where Black language speakers have problems with their English pronunciation. The local Black languages have only six or seven short vowel sounds versus the 23 short and long vowel sounds in English, so the course focused on the vowel exercises in order to improve pronunciation and intelligibility. Over 4,000 Harambee trainees have been through the course as part of their contact centre agent training programme.
During late 2014 and 2015 we wrote and recorded 80 new exercises for the consonants. This makes the course suitable for improving accents across all the languages, as for example Afrikaans and Far Eastern language speakers who have problems with pronouncing English consonants. We also upgraded to the latest version of Moodle and we have added a recording and playback feature to each page on the course, which helps the trainee to listen to their own voice and practice much more effectively. Plus we have added the ability to record a special 30 second script which shows the strength or weakness of a person’s English accent quite clearly. This gives the trainer the option to record everybody speaking the short script at the beginning and then at the end of the course. Having the recordings allows a trained voice coach or even a good English speaker to compare the recordings and measure the accent improvement. The Accent Labs course is not a wonder cure as truly changing an accent can take years, but it definitely can improve an accent if the learner is enthusiastic and practices.
Blending the course with regular face-to-face interventions makes it even more effective. We offer options of either supplying voice coaches to handle regular motivational, practice sessions or we can train your trainers to handle these sessions. The blended approach makes the course stronger but it can stand on it’s own quite effectively. We can script an introductory session to get the trainees started or do the launch session for you.
Regarding timing, working through the course with the objective of getting a 100% score for each exercise can take 18 hours if the trainee is a reasonably fluent English speaker, but is more likely to take between 18 and 24 hours with the practice needed to get the highest possible score. With that in mind, the course could be completed within a week to two weeks, or longer if necessary, depending on how you wish to fit the course into the trainees’ study/work timetable.
Regarding reporting, we schedule with you to supply weekly progress reports, which give an accurate picture of exactly how far the trainee is with the course, and gives a rating per exercise and section. We are working towards fully automating the reports so that the supervisors can access them directly as required.