Soaring Demand for Elocution Lessons As Britons Seek To Lose Their Regional Accents

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According to a new study by Thetutorpages.com website, worries about employment and promotion prospects fuel demand for voice coaching.

A growing number of anxious Britons are turning to elocution tutors to help them reduce their regional accents and improve the way they speak, according to a new study.

Hundreds of people who contacted the UK’s leading private tuition website http://www.thetutorpages.com in 2011 said they wanted to modify or lose their accents because they feared being ridiculed or held back in their careers.

Among the reasons given for seeking elocution lessons were a desire to be taken more seriously and worries about employment and promotion prospects. Many people who contacted the website said they needed help because they had a fear of public speaking and giving presentations at work or at job interviews.

The largest number of enquiries came from people living in the West Midlands, many of them looking for help to soften their Birmingham or Black Country accents. Other regions where large numbers of people have turned to elocution tutors for help with their accents include London and the South East, Manchester, Merseyside, the North of England and the West Country.

Last year, http://www.thetutorpages.com received over 20,000 enquiries from people seeking tuition across a broad range of subjects, including more than 500 requests for elocution coaching. An analysis for the website set out in a new report shows that elocution teachers received more enquiries than teachers of any other subject in 2011, with many tutors having to turn away requests for help.

The most common request was for help with softening regional accents. A typical example came from a senior manager employed by one of the Midlands’ biggest manufacturers who told the website: “I have a strong Brummie accent and often the first impression people have of me when they hear me talk is that I’m thick. I want to improve my elocution and tone down my Brummie accent as I think it may hold me back in my career.”

Another enquirer said: “I am a Dudley girl born and bred and sadly I sound like one too. I will shortly find myself on the open job market and feel this can only disadvantage me in the forthcoming search for employment. I also think that I could earn more if I sounded better.”

Many requests for elocution lessons came from people in London and the Thames Valley who said they were unhappy with their accents, which voice experts often describe as ‘Estuary English’.

One barrister with a “very broad South East London accent” sought help after he discovered he had almost been turned down for a promotion. He told the website: “I am beginning to get tired of the reaction I get when I open my mouth and although proud of my roots I am wondering if I should have some elocution lessons in order that I am taken more seriously.”

Another enquiry came from a woman seeking lessons for her daughter, who said: “She has a degree and her partner is an accountant and they feel that their Essex accent holds them back from achieving successful posts and career opportunities.”

A high proportion of the requests for elocution lessons came from professionals looking for a way to improve their career prospects, including business executives, bankers, doctors, NHS managers, social workers and broadcasters. They also include many people who have come to the UK from abroad and are looking to modify their foreign accents.

One London-based banker said: “I work in the City and am looking for promotion but feel that my language skills are holding me back. I am from South East Asia and speak Mandarin and English. I’d like to improve on the clarity and tone of my speech, soften my accent and be able to handle City-type potentially confrontational dialogues.”

A company director from Poland based in East Anglia wanted to be able to “speak perfect private school (posh) English”. Another request came from a Russian woman who wanted to acquire a “posh” accent, who said: I love the way Joanna Lumley speaks and I’m sure you can help me achieve that.”

James Gregory, 30, a speech and elocution tutor in Balsall Heath in the West Midlands, said: “I do have a lot of people very unhappy with their West Midlands accent who want to lose it completely. There are a lot of pressures on people to try and improve all aspects of themselves when they go out into the world of work. Everyone is fighting for jobs and positions and employers have the upper hand in that they can pick and choose.

“A lot of people I work with want to develop skills in presentation and communication as well as speech and articulation. It’s about how they put themselves across and whether they can make a clear point.”

Maggie Hall, a speech and drama teacher in Brighton, said one factor behind the rise in requests for elocution coaching in the last year was The King’s Speech, the film starring Colin Firth as King George VI, who sought assistance from a speech therapist to help him overcome his fear of public speaking.

“Personally, I blame The King’s Speech, although nobody really wants to speak like the Queen, or her father as played by Colin Firth in the film. The people to listen to these days for a really good example of ‘received pronunciation’ are actors such as Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart or Judy Dench,” she said.

Many requests to the website also came from parents seeking elocution lessons on behalf of their children. One parent lamented: “I live in Cheshire and my son has developed an irritating Scouse accent over the past few months. I am constantly correcting his pronunciation but it’s just not working.”

Another mother seeking lessons for her daughter said: “I would like her to speak the Queen’s English and sound like she has a private education.”

A third mother was even blunter, saying: “My daughter has recently changed from private school to state school and I’ve noticed a huge change in her speech, which is HORRIFYING!”

Henry Fagg, director of http://www.thetutorpages.com, commented: “There appears to be a significant change taking place in our culture which, despite the popularity of TV shows like The Only Way is Essex, is making elocution lessons and voice coaching fashionable again.

“You could say it’s a return to the days of Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, when many ambitious people were denied opportunities because they spoke with a regional or working-class accent. A lot of people who have contacted us do appear to be trying to improve their prospects by learning to present themselves better and to speak more clearly,” he said.

The report, Elocution in the new Britain: trends in private tuition, looks at the most popular academic subjects, languages and musical instruments with people seeking private tuition in 2011. Other key findings are:

  • Requests for tuition in academic subjects: The biggest number of requests came from parents wanting extra coaching to help their children prepare for school tests or external exams. Secondary science (20 per cent), secondary maths (15 per cent), Secondary English (9 per cent) and the 11-plus exam (8 per cent) attracted most enquiries.
  • Requests for language tuition: English as a Foreign Language attracted more requests for private tuition than any other language (22 per cent). French and Spanish came next (19 per cent), followed by Chinese and German (8 per cent each).
  • Requests for music lessons: Over half of all requests for musical tuition were for piano (28 per cent), singing (16 per cent) and the violin (14 per cent). The saxophone was the third most popular (6 per cent).

Click here to read the report:

http://www.thetutorpages.com/media-room/Elocution-in-the-new-Britain-Trends-in-private-tuition-January-2012.pdf

The report includes more quotes from people seeking elocution lessons, plus case studies of elocution teachers. It also has a full break-down of the subjects attracting the most enquiries for tuition in 2011.

For further details about music and languages see pages 12-13 of the report.

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Henry Fagg
The Tutor Pages Ltd
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