DECODING ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION
English pronunciation can seem, at first glance, to defy reason.
While there are five vowels (or six, if we include “y”) there are 21 vowel sounds. Try saying aloud the following vowel sounds that are used in everyday language:
cap, cup, cop, cough, cape, lit, let, look, loot, low, find, found, foil, fully, fire, four, hour, per, peer, pair, part
Note that each of these twenty-one vowel sounds is written with one of the six vowel letters. The linguistic explanation for this is that English is not a phonetic language. In other words, letters are not pronounced in only one way. The best example of this may be the words “woman” and “women”. The letters that change (‘a’ and ‘e’) are pronounced the same way. The letter that stays the same (“o”), is the sound that changes.
English pronunciation can seem mind-boggling. Scratching below the surface, however, we’ll find that it’s highly structured. It’s based on a system of standardized rules and patterns. The English accent is methodical. With instruction and a little bit of practice, people from every language background acquire the fundamental articulation techniques needed for effective speech in a relatively short amount of time.
THE VALUE OF ACCENT REDUCTION CLASSES
It’s legitimate to question the financial pay-offs of an accent reduction program. After all, while maybe not a huge investment, at least some cost is involved.
When determining its value, people tend to cite the obvious benefits when communication is seamless:
- Increased efficiencies
- Improved collaboration
- Enhanced flow of information
All are necessary for tightly coordinating tasks, working with customers and partners worldwide, moving resources across global supply chains, and for multicultural teams working together to reach a shared objective. Still others may refer to the high cost of replacing an employee.
Due to the complexities of English pronunciation, it is sometimes the case that individuals have tremendous expertise but are unable to convey it in ways required for leading teams, consulting with clients, or even delivering exceptional healthcare. These examples demonstrate the unequivocal benefits of accent reduction. Yet there’s an additional, less obvious benefit, and the pay-off may be just as valuable.
CONFIDENCE EQUALS COMPETENCE: TRUE OR FALSE?
Confidence is attractive. A person who exudes confidence is often viewed as more able, talented, or skilled. In Western culture, we tend to equate confidence with competence. We automatically assume a confident person is a competent person. But is this really true?
It’s worth noting that “Confidence Equals Competence” is a perception. I’m sure we’ve all been advised, probably more than once, to “fake it ‘til you make it”, the goal being to project an air of capability. This is not necessarily bad. Imagine a situation where there’s real and immediate danger and a person needs to convey confidence in order to lead others to safety. Confidence can be inspiring and an enormous motivator.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CONFIDENCE IN LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY
Self-confidence is different than confidence. Self-confidence refers to a personal judgement of one’s own ability. If someone is self-confident in their ability to perform a skill or task, the confidence they convey to others is authentic.
Self-confidence in language proficiency is a key factor in a person’s willingness to participate in conversations, present information, and take on leadership roles that involve oral communication. When a non-native speaker (of any language) is on the receiving end of, “What? What did you say? Can you repeat that?”, the natural tendency is to shut down.
Conversely, when a person learns how to pronounce the sounds in English that don’t occur in his/her language, in effect to master English pronunciation, their self-confidence soars. The tendency is to speak with power and impact, to no longer hold back.
THE COSTS OF LOW SELF-CONFIDENCE
A hidden cost of low self-confidence due to heavily accented speech is a hesitation to “jump in” and contribute valuable information or insight. Companies cannot afford this.
Companies with greater diversity outperform those with less diversity. In fact, companies in the top quarter for ethnic diversity are 33 per cent more likely to see higher-than-average profits than companies in the lowest quarter. Why? Because diverse workforces bring different ways to problem solve and innovate. They bring experiences and outlooks to the table that homogeneous workforces simply don’t have.
When every constituent of an organization is empowered to communicate with clarity, confident and ease, their voices are heard. Organizations, and their people, excel.