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June 2012 Talking Points Newsletter

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How do I broach the topic of accent reduction? We're often asked this question, and it's wonderful! It speaks to a person's desire to be respectful of our diverse cultural identities.

  1. The first question is to ask ourselves "What's the objective of an accent reduction program?" The answer is to empower every constituent of a diverse workforce. If done right, it's downright transformative. Our discussion of the topic can be equally positive. Don't be afraid to talk about the issue. It can be a win-win for everyone.
  2. Acknowledge what accent reduction is (a program that teaches pronunciation techniques for the sounds in English that don't exist in other languages) and what it isn't (accent elimination--YUCK!) The point isn't to "take away from" but, rather, to "add to." In this case, program participants acquire a repertoire of articulation techniques that create an ability to be easily understood...reeaaally understood. Everyone has an accent. It's all about learning the accent patterns of an additional language. After completing a program, a person should be able to convey who they really are: their beliefs, values, ideas, and ways of problem solving. These are actually keys to maintaining our cultural identity, let alone adding value to our team.
  3. It's time to start talking about the topic with prospective participants and perhaps other organizational leaders. Here are the essential messages to make sure to communicate:
    • Most important, this is a shared process. Many Americans are not proficient in understanding unfamiliar accents. The objective is to help a person's colleagues and clients better understand his/her valuable contributions.
    • Talk about this as a process of communication, not language proficiency. People who study pronunciation are already fluent English speakers.
    • Make it clear that the goal is to maximize each person's professional expertise. An accent reduction program ensures that both the individual and his/her organization excel.

    The point isn't to "sound like an American". What would that sound like anyway? That's like asking an Olympian what an athlete looks like. For that, all we have to do is tune into the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I'm sure you're as excited as we are to experience the splendor of diverse uniforms, pageantry, and music. It's magnificent! And yet while each Olympian's smile is uniquely different, we all understand its meaning: hope, excitement, gratitude, and pure joy.

    Like the athletes from around the globe, our multinational workforce isn't about being the same. It's about being together, and we can talk about it in ways that make it happen.

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