Foreign Accent: Benefits and Challenges

Everyone Has an Accent

You may not realize it, but you do have an accent. We all have accents. If you have traveled even within your own country you have probably noticed differences in the speech patterns of others, and they have probably noticed yours. The sounds and patterns of our speech constitute our accent.

At The Sound Center, we work with many people who want to modify their accents. Some want to be more intelligible using American English. However, most want to preserve their native sound to some degree.

Your Accent Could Be an Asset

Do you speak with a foreign accent in respect to those around you?  Accents can cause communication breakdowns, but they also can be beneficial.  If you speak with an accent, you immediately tell those around you that you speak more than one language.  It is likely that people who speak American English are monolingual.  But by speaking just a few words, you are telling people that you have experiences beyond the US.  These experiences have shaped you and made you unique, cosmopolitan, and bilingual…or multilingual.

Do People Misunderstand You?

You may have to repeat yourself frequently.  You may experience communication breakdowns.  Everyone does.  The way you deal with them will influence whether your accent benefits you or not.  When someone asks you what you said, the natural direct response is simply to repeat what you said.  You may repeat yourself more slowly or clearly, and that may suffice. Another strategy is to rephrase your message; Use different words to say the same thing. This takes a bit more thinking but can be much more effective.  You can increase your chance of success if you can control the environment: minimize background noise and distractions.  If you cannot, move closer to your listener and maximize eye contact.

Another challenge is managing the perceptions of others if you make pronunciation or grammatical errors.  Being proactive in acknowledging your errors is a mark of a great communicator and a mature individual.  Using humor can be very effective.  Of course you have an accent.  Of course you will make mistakes.  Seek to deliver your message instead of seeking perfection.

Does Your Accent Hold You Back?

In the global marketplace, people are becoming increasingly accustomed to various accents. They are getting better at comprehending them. This is good news, but the best communicators realize that although communication is a two-way street, you can only control yourself. If an accent is standing between you and success, contact us. We’d love to help.

Auditory perception–How well can you hear yourself?

If you are trying to change an aspect of your sound—be it related to accent, voice quality, articulation, phrasing, or tone of voice, you need to be able to hear yourself accurately to be successful.  Many people are alarmed when they hear how they sound on a recording.  Auditory perception, or improving your awareness of sound, is a necessary step in learning any new speech motor skill.

As many of us learned in the recent “Yanny” versus “Laurel” debate, auditory perception is subject to individual difference. Here is a link to a nice YouTube video (with a shout out to an awesome speech scientist, Brad Story), that discusses reasons for this perceptual confusion, including acoustic properties and listener’s age. Despite the debate, you can improve your auditory perceptual skills. You might start with listening to and describing others’ voices and speech patterns. Of course, your observations probably best kept to yourself unless they are positive!

It’s more difficult to develop accurate auditory perception of our own voices. Why? Because we hear our own voices differently than others hear it.  We hear it internally via bone conduction and externally via air conduction.  If you plug your ears and talk you may not hear the sounds around you, but you can hear your own talking.

Here are three ideas to improve your auditory perception:

  1. As mentioned above, listen carefully to the sound of others.  Observe their voices and speech patterns.
  2. Record yourself and observe what you hear.  Prepare to feel uneasy but trust the process.
  3. Tune into how your speech and voice feels.  Exaggerate the sound you wish to change and focus on it with curiosity.  Experience its quality, movement, vibration, opening, and points of contact.  Notice how the sound changes if you adjust your tongue position, mouth opening, breathing, or other speech-related action.

After you connect the dots between the sound of your recorded voice versus your spoken voice and the feeling of your voice versus the sound, and you have developed your ear to more keenly perceive others’ voices, challenge yourself further:  Be aware of your sound as you speak.  Of course, speech is first and foremost about communication—don’t analyze your voice all of the time.  But in select situations, with certain people, or a few minutes several times a day, tune in and become an expert on your own sound.

Almost all of my clients need a nudge to take the steps of recording themselves, listening, and experimenting, yet they say it is one of the most valuable exercises they have done. Ever. We can make it easy. Contact us for more information.