Accent Reduction: Giving Up or Taking On?
“Cultural competencies” has become a high priority for people in talent and learning development. From Fortune 500 companies to NATO, it’s widely understood that embracing diverse, multicultural norms helps organizations excel.
Where does accent modification (aka, accent reduction) fit in? Is it something that helps people become more culturally competent, or is it something that devalues diversity? To answer this, let’s first take a look at what it means to be fluent in a language…any language.
In order for two people to converse with one another, there needs to be a mutual understanding of what words mean (aka, vocabulary), how words are used (grammar), and how words are spoken (pronunciation). Vocabulary. Grammar. Pronunciation. None of these are intrinsically right or wrong. They’re simply sets of shared meaning between two or more speakers. Having a common basis of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation ensures that everyone who speaks is heard.
Accent reduction is a process where individuals learn how to pronounce the sounds of a language that do not exist in their first language. It enables people to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and professional expertise so that the speaker and listener can readily understand one another. It lets them meet a shared objective. When this happens, consulting with clients, leading teams, and collaborating with colleagues happen with greater ease and impact. People do not need to sound the same. On the contrary, this would diminish the rich cultural diversity of our global workforce. But we all need to be heard and easily understood.
With the completion of any given Accents International training program, participants still have an accent. What they don’t have is the experience of being frequently asked to repeat themselves; or worse, dismissed because their listeners aren’t able to understand their message. By acquiring a solid foundation in English pronunciation, non-native English speakers become culturally competent while maintaining their unique cultural identities.