DO YOU remember the salesman you bought that expensive French perfume from, even though you were not looking to buy? Or the customer service executive who really understood your concern about your faulty Internet connection and helped you troubleshoot the problem?
The next time you are in a similar situation, it is almost a given that you will go or at least want to go back to the same people.
Now, imagine a scenario where you have to keep repeating yourself since the other person does not understand what you said or you have to keep asking him to repeat what he said or to slow down as he is talking too fast. We have all been in similar situations.
Communication skills vital
In today’s competitive environment, the significance of effective communication skills cannot be overemphasised. In fact, a critical element in interactions leading to positive or negative experiences is communication.
As human beings, we prefer to interact with people with whom we have something in common. And talking about communication, we relate better to people who can speak our language. Simple, or is it?
Logically, anyone who is able to communicate in English should be able to build rapport with the rest of the English-speaking population — but that doesn’t always happen.
The reason is there is more to communication than just knowing a language. And one of the potential barriers to effective communication worth focusing on is one’s accent.
Today, both individuals and company representatives are investing heavily in training that teaches them to speak with a neutral accent. A neutralised accent is especially imperative for companies and individuals who use English as a second language and, therefore, must communicate in English as part of their business and social lives.
The truth is, everyone has an accent, whichever language you speak. Put simply, an accent is the characteristic manner in which one talks, and is often influenced by one’s regional, social and economic background. Our accents are affected by the places we have lived in, the schools we have attended and the people we have interacted with as part of our social circle.
Modify your accent
But even though our accents have developed over a relatively long time, it is still possible to modify them. This can be achieved through a systematic and methodical training process that focuses on modifying speech patterns and specific speech sounds.
It is good to understand how one can work on pronouncing a word correctly by breaking it down into syllables and then knowing which syllable to stress. The way we speak and the way we listen are closely linked.
Some people find it hard to differentiate the “th” and “t” sounds, for example, in “three” and “tree”; or “th” and “d” as in “there” and “those” (pronouncing the words as “dere” and “dose”).
Some of us tend to switch the “l” and “r” sounds, saying “clown” when we mean “crown”. And we sometimes use inappropriate vowel sounds and say “bat” instead of “bet”. Pronunciation flaws, therefore, have the potential to create a lot of confusion.
Intonation is also a factor that can hinder smooth communication. Intonation is the rhythm in one’s speech, which communicates the emotion and the meaning of what is being said. If your intonation varies too much away from Standard English, for example, native English speakers may have difficulty in understanding you.
Now let’s be clear about one thing: You don’t need to speak American-accented or British English. What you might want to focus on is being able to speak in a neutral, globally comprehensible accent.
Knowing the language well — mastering the rules of grammar and building an impeccable vocabulary — can bring you closer to communicating effectively in neutral-accented English. Speakers of Standard English, regardless of where they are from, will understand you if you use the appropriate vocabulary, pronunciation and correct sentence structure.
Not only does a neutralised accent enable effective communication, it also enhances your social and professional image. So if your accent is creating a communication gap, it is worth your while to plug it.
Article by Urvashi Dhar, the founder and managing director of The Lausanne Group. For more information, visit www.thelausannegroup.com