Working with an Accent: Could You Repeat That Please?

Even employees who have studied their second language extensively may find that a heavy accent keeps them from being understood by their colleagues and by other native speakers. Consequently, they aren’t able to contribute to the best of their ability at work. They may also have trouble making connections and feeling at home in a new country. Being constantly asked “Could you repeat that, please?” because of their accent leads to self-consciousness and anxiety that can damage their productivity.

So how do employees who have extensive language experience still end up struggling with heavy accents? One common reason is that their previous language training was all in an academic setting that failed to provide enough real-world conversational practice. An employee who has experienced their second language mostly through textbooks may have proficiency in reading and writing the language. However, if they haven’t heard or spoken the new language enough, they haven’t mastered the sounds that might not exist in their native language or the subtle differences in pronunciation that can change the meaning of what they are saying. As a result, they are left with a heavy accent when speaking, and this impedes their communication with native speakers of the language.

Employees can even have heavy accents if they’ve used their second language frequently at work — but with mostly non-native speakers. Again, it’s that real-world conversational practice with native speakers that makes all the difference in whether someone can be understood when using their second language.

Accents in the Workplace

A heavy accent can cause communication problems both at work and in an employee’s personal life. At work, employees with heavy accents feel hesitant about speaking up when they have an idea. They absolutely dread conference calls. And they may find themselves in frequent, needless misunderstandings with colleagues. All of this means that their employers don’t benefit from all the skills, insights and creativity they have to offer. They’re less effective at collaborating, and that damages their productivity.

Outside of work, they might feel too self-conscious to even attempt common daily tasks like ordering food at a drive-through. Even worse, their heavy accent could discourage them from striking up conversations with native speakers who could become friends and part of their support system in a new country. When a heavy accent keeps an expat employee from fully engaging in work and life in a new country, that increases the odds of a failed international relocation — which is costly to your company.

Talking with an employee about their accent can be a delicate situation. An employee with a heavy accent is unlikely to receive coaching about their accent from the native speakers they work with, who often feel uncomfortable offering correction. When Fluency Corp language instructors work with clients on their accents, the first thing we usually hear is “That’s how it’s supposed to be pronounced? Why hasn’t anyone ever corrected me?” If you believe that a heavy accent is preventing your employee from performing well, check out our guide for approaching an employee about accent reduction training.

Help Employees with a Heavy Accent be Understood

Fluency Corp language training is designed to help employees with heavy accents be understood better by native speakers. Not only that, we give them the confidence they need to speak up at meetings and give presentations. The emphasis is on the relevant conversational practice that’s all too often missing in the classroom. Whether they’re taking classes in person or online with a live instructor, all Fluency Corp clients study with experienced, native-speaker instructors. These instructors take the time to get to know students and their specific challenges so that they can offer valuable, personalized feedback.

Start Training Your Employees

Whether you are a manager or HR professional who’s looking for resources to help employees with heavy accents or you want to improve your own accent, contact Fluency Corp for a free consultation by filling out the form below or calling us at (800) 401-3159.

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