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.

Learning Unconscious Competence

Do you know about the consciousness-competence matrix? It is a theory of learning that outlines our path from poor performance without awareness to performing well without self-consciousness. We move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.

In other words, before we begin to gain a new skill, we are unaware of our inability to successfully complete it. I recently worked with Margaret, who wanted to improve the sound of her voice. After facilitating a webinar she listened to the recording and was dismayed; she didn’t realize her voice sounded so harsh and nasal. This movement from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is often what prompts people to seek training. My first approach is to help clients become even more aware of their current skill level. Sometimes they perceive that they are getting worse when they are simply becoming more conscious of their incompetence. For a free consultation to help uncover opportunities for improvement, contact us!

Spirits lift when clients move toward competence, albeit a competence that can only be achieved using a high level of focus. Because we have limited cognitive resources, this is often where training and therapy fail. We are successful when we are earnestly practicing, but once we enter the real world, we cannot maintain our focus.

Ultimately we want to reach the state of unconscious competence, which is another word for habit. The good news is that our brains are able to create new pathways with the right input. Do you know the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? I disagree. A neurologist I know has turned this idea on its head. He says, “Any dog, any age, any trick.” So don’t ever think that you are too old or a skill is too difficult. With consistent practice and patience, you can move from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. Let us know if we can help!

For more on the four stages of competence, visit:

https://www.businessballs.com/self-awareness/conscious-competence-learning-model-63/
http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/consciousness_competence.htm