Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

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Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

Are you a non-native English speaker navigating an English speaking workplace? Does your accent pose a communication challenge from time to time?

Are you asked to repeat yourself?  Or asked to repeat words containing a particular vowel sound that consistently trips you up?  Being unable to communicate effectively and efficiently can be a nerve-wracking experience.  

What’s more, the American Speech Language Association acknowledges that having difficulty communicating with those around you can lead to avoiding social interaction.  And frustration from having to repeat yourself all the time.  These feelings over time can negatively affect personal and professional relationships as well as job performance.  The tips below are geared to help you avoid shying away from words you’d really like to use (or perhaps must use) when communicating at work that are difficult for you to pronounce.

#1: Identify Potential Trouble-spots In Advance

Speaking in front of an audience, especially when you’re aiming to impress, can be a stressful experience. And this is true for English and non-English speakers alike.  Add in the extra challenge of navigating a workplace presentation in a language that’s not your own and that stress rises to a whole different level.  If you will be speaking from prepared notes the first thing you should do is prepare your talking points using words that best describe what you’re trying to convey.  Don’t compromise the content of your presentation by purposely avoiding words that you don’t like pronouncing – yet.  Once you’ve finalized your content print it out.  Recite your presentation out loud a few times and when you reach a word that you have difficulty with highlight it.  Then, create a separate list containing only the highlighted words you’ve identified that give you trouble.  Print this out too.  Now you’re ready to tackle what’s tripping you up and regain your control.

#2: Break It Down

Now you have your list of words that give you trouble.  Say each word out loud no less than 10 times.  I know this sounds excessive but it’s important.  It will help make the feeling of the word in your mouth more familiar.  It will also increase your ear’s familiarity with the sound of your voice pronouncing it.  Increasing comfort in both of these regards is important .  The last thing you want to be focused on in the middle of your presentation is a word you don’t like pronouncing coming up two sentences away.  You want to be connecting with your audience and communicating with confidence!  

Repeating the word this many times outloud will also provide you the chance to play with speed. Practice saying the word slowly, then fast.  Then purposely over-pronounce and exaggerate each of the vowel and consonant sounds.  If you gain understanding of why it’s difficult for you to pronounce the word you regain some power and control-power you may feel you lack after previous verbal exchanges using this word that were frustrating.

#3:  Get out that smartphone.

Nowadays every smartphone contains a voice memo app. Record yourself reciting the full sentence in which the word appears.  Do the words that occur directly before and/or after the troublesome word influence your pronunciation of it?  Note this if so, and make any necessary adjustments.  Once you’ve done this for each sentence where a highlighted word exists, record yourself giving your entire presentation.  When you listen back to the recording pay close attention.  Are there any moments where you hear hesitation?  Or where you recall losing your sense of control?  Continue practicing until you no longer experience discomfort or lack of assuredness when you reach these moments in your presentation.

Finally, enlist someone you trust – a friend or a colleague – and practice your presentation in front of them.  It’s important that you bridge the gap between practicing alone with your voice recorder to sharing your thoughts with a live audience.  You may notice that the progress you made alludes you at first.  Nerves have a way of doing that.  Be patient and kind with yourself.  Just take a deep breath and try again.  If you are willing to invest the time you will find that over time words that seemed impossible for you to pronounce will have worked their way into your everyday vocabulary and you’ll be using them without a second thought.

This post was written by Jackie Miller

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