A lot of people ask me if they should get “accent reduction,” the process in which a foreign-language speaker (or someone with a stigmatized accent) goes to a specialist to learn a more “standard” accent.
Do you need accent reduction? In my mind, you do if you fall into one of three categories:
1.) People cannot understand you. You should know if this is the case or not. If you have a difficult time being understood by co-workers, strangers or friends, you may be able to benefit from “neutral” accent training.
2.) You are an actor or voice-over artist. This is self-explanatory. If you make your living through your voice, it is invaluable to be able to change your natural dialect.
3.) You work at a job where you communicate with many nationalities. Accent alteration is helpful if you work at a job where you have to communicate with people from different parts of the globe on a daily basis (for example, customer service).
The point should be to facilitate communication, not to make somebody over. If I were an accent reduction specialist (I am not), I would not try to eliminate anybody’s accent entirely. I would instead focus on softening the parts of the accent that hinder communication.
For the record, I hate the term “accent reduction.” There are no neutral accents, linguistically speaking. If the world had gone a different route, African-American Vernacular English might have been the standard dialect, with General American English perceived as some kind of “incorrect” variant. The point is, nobody is “reducing” anything.
That being said, I don’t believe this type of work is racist or classist if it’s done for the right reasons. If you want to adopt a more neutral accent than the one you have now, I would recommend finding a qualified professional, one focused on the principles of good speech. The point is to sound like yourself, not an airline stewardess from Iowa.