Do you speak with an accent?
What we believe: accents are beautiful, quirky, tell a story and endear us to people.
What we also believe: difficult-to-understand accents can detract from what we’re trying to convey. They can also hold us back in our careers if it is hard for people to communicate with us. And they can make us feel self-conscious to the point that we do not say as much as we want to say.
Skills You Need states that, “[Accents] may…, however, in some situations, create potential barriers to communication. For example, if you have a very strong accent, people from another area or country may find it harder to understand what you are saying. You may therefore need to slow down your speech to ensure that they have time to process what you are saying.”
To Be Successful, You Must be Understood
We know that our clients can be more successful in their careers and in their personal lives if people can understand them more easily. We also know from personal experience, work experience and hearing from other professionals in multilingual regions like Silicon Valley, that ‘accents were dramatically influencing the quality of interaction for foreign-born team members.”Now, our business is to equip our clients with effective communication in their non-native languages, but it’s also our business to help people who do speak with an accent develop the ability to communicate clearly.
This doesn’t mean that we want everyone to sound like an American, rather, we want others to understand you well and we want you to succeed in all things you want to be successful in. There are specific tricks you can learn that will make your speech understood better by an American ear.
You Can Be Fluent and Have a Strong Accent
I remember when I lived in Mexico, and every time I ordered, the waiter said politely, “Excuse me, but what did you say?” I was embarrassed and frustrated. To make matters worse, I was completely fluent in Spanish.
Accents are more than just pronouncing words. It’s the rhythm, the cadence, the tone, the linking of the words (depending on the language), as opposed to saying. Each. Word. In. di. vi. dually. Native speakers don’t do this in English. You probably don’t do this in your first language either.
When you’re fluent, but you have an accent, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve it so that you can work more effectively, or, make your coworkers feel more confident about working with you.
Are People Struggling to Understand you?
I have a client who has a strong accent and is in charge of selling his company’s product – he’s the spokesperson at conferences. I’ve seen him give presentations, and I’ve seen the crowd lean toward him and focus intently – trying to understand him. Now, you might say, “That’s great! He’s getting their attention!” But not in a good way.
We want them to be able to relax, sit back, and listen to his important message, not crane their necks and scrunch their foreheads trying to understand. The audience should be able to focus on the content of what he’s saying, not trying to figure out the words and their meanings.
Dianne Markley, a professor at the University of North Texas at Denton (UNT) whose graduate research focused on how accents affect the hiring process, says, unfortunately, “sometimes an accent leads to the perception that that person can’t perform this job,” she adds. “In fact, it is legal to not hire someone whose accent materially affects his ability to perform key aspects of a job.”
Point is: if people are asking you ‘what?’ on the phone or in person, if you can see some confusion on their face or struggle to understand you, you might want to consider accent reduction lessons. It won’t take away from the unique way that you speak, and most likely everyone will still know where you come from, but there will be clarity to your speech, which will only benefit you, your confidence, career, and personal relationships.