Attending meetings, seminars, and group discussions and contributing to them by articulating our thoughts provide a platform for our ideas that can probably, effect massive changes. But more often than not, we find ourselves tongue-tied, bursting with views but unable to communicate them to our audience. The words are there, on the tip of our tongue, eager to be sprouted but held back viciously by our lack of confidence. Numerous factors contribute to our fear of speaking out in public, like being petrified of being ridiculed for our strong accent when speaking English.
Unfortunately, this is not an exception but is very much the norm across sectors. In India, being educated in a vernacular medium, not using English to communicate at home, being multilingual with more emphasis on native languages than English, and having lesser exposure to English media are reasons behind a strong accent. A native accent is not worrying and does not reflect one’s communication proficiency. Even those in the English world have strong accents depending on which region they come from, and it doesn’t stop them from being consummate communicators.
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Elements that make communication effortless
Eloquent communication has less to do with how a language is spoken and more with other factors, including knowledge of the subject matter, confidence, and delivery style. Though commendable, correctly enunciating words doesn’t guarantee good communication, as exemplified by this report which states native English speakers are some of the worst communicators.
Here are some factors that can help you communicate effectively.
- Use simple language
- Be concise
- Stay on point
- Use humour
- Be consistent across platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
The key to great communication is being able to say what you want to say in as few words as possible. It's not about being wordy; it's about being precise and getting to the point quickly so that your audience will understand exactly what you're trying to say.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to improve English communication is: if you can't say it in one sentence then maybe you should think about rethinking what you're trying to say altogether. Keep things simple and straightforward; don't try to be clever or use big words just for the sake of doing so because it will only end up confusing people more than helping them! And remember: when all else fails, make people laugh!
People love interacting with someone who can make them chuckle; it makes them feel connected and like they can really trust you as a source of reliable information rather than some stuffy know-it-all who thinks they're better than everyone else just because they have more education than someone else does (which is total BS by the way!).
How do Strong accents affect English communication?
English communication can be difficult, especially if your accent and dialect are very different from the way it’s spoken in your region. Although native English speakers might think that having an accent makes speaking easier (since it’s not so hard to understand you), accents can improve English communication skills in several ways – both for you and the person you are speaking to!
If you are studying English or if English is your second language, this article will provide some great tips on how to adjust your accent so that you can communicate more effectively with others and improve speaking skills.
1) Strong accents are not easily understood by others
It’s generally due to differences in pronunciation, but sometimes it's also because the speaker isn't using the right accent or grammar rules. For example, some people speak British English with a strong American accent and vice versa. This makes it hard for native speakers of either language to understand what the person is saying. You may have to ask the person to repeat themselves and try to figure out what they are saying.
Mostly, accents are a problem when two different groups of people (i.e., native English speakers and other languages) are trying to communicate or to improve speaking skills. The problem is that one group speaks with a strong accent while the other does not, so it can be difficult for them to understand each other.
If you or someone you know has an accent, then here are some tips on how you can better communicate:
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Use simple words when possible; avoid slang expressions
- Try not to talk over others to improve communication skills
2) A strong accent interferes with non-verbal communication
When you speak, your intonation, volume, and pronunciation can tell the listener how you feel to improve speaking skills. If a person has a strong accent and speaks too quickly or too quietly, it can be difficult to understand what they are saying.
In some cases, this might affect nonverbal communication as well. For example, if someone is angry but has a strong accent, their tone of voice might not convey that emotion to the listener in the same way an American speaker would sound angry. An accent can also make it more difficult for listeners to decipher word stress patterns.
3) Strong accents can create barriers to social interactions
When people are unable to understand what someone is saying, they may be embarrassed, feel frustrated, and become less inclined to interact with that person.
Furthermore, if two individuals have very different accents it may create an unfair advantage for one speaker who may know the other's accent better. Finally, people with strong accents are often stereotyped as unintelligent or uneducated which could lead them to feel like they have little worth in society.
4) Strong accents can lead to misunderstandings
When someone has an accent, it can lead to misunderstandings. This is especially true if the listener does not understand a specific language or dialect. In a professional setting, the speaker may be perceived as less intelligent due to their accent. The speaker's meaning may also be misinterpreted. The listener may not understand what the person is trying to say, even though they are speaking in perfect English. This can lead to frustration and confusion on both ends of the conversation.
Why we hesitate to communicate in English?
Our hesitation to communicate in English due to our perceived flawed diction and subsequent fear of mockery is also rooted in our colonial past. More than 200 years-long colonial impositions rendered in our minds an exalted position in the English language.
We tend to idolise those with flawless English and minimal diction while berating ourselves for not meeting the sometimes impossibly high standards we place on ourselves. We confuse good accents with good communication, and it is critical to understand the two are not the same.
There is no denying the expansive powers of the English language and its growing preference among business houses in traditionally non-English speaking countries and learning the language will only help us manoeuvre the complex world of international business and culture. However, it is also essential to understand that language is just as useful when reflecting on our more diverse backgrounds.
Indian companies must create a non-judgmental environment that enables employees to speak in English, if they so choose, irrespective of their diction. Only when diverse dictions are embraced, and judgements cast aside, that we as a society will feel more comfortable communicating our ideas.
How to Overcome Hesitation in Speaking English?
Rakesh Godhwani, Founder, the School of Meaningful Experiences, shares some insights through his weekly videos, Conversations with Rakesh.
Watch the video here:
Here are the steps to overcome the mental barrier to strong communication.
1. Overcoming diction troubles
“I did not study in an English medium school and feel I am not good at communication because of my accented English. So, I tend to keep quiet in meetings. What should I do?” This is one of the most common questions I get when I teach classes in communication and give webinars, says Rakesh. It is disheartening to know that people equate strong diction with poor communication when, in fact, they are two different things.
This question, Rakesh adds, can be broken into two main parts. Why do we think we should not speak in meetings because we have a strong accent? And how can we remedy this?
Many of us suffer from a form of communication anxiety. A considerable percentage of India’s population has studied in vernacular medium – only 17 per cent goes to English medium schools – and feel conscious about their strong accents or, supposedly, inferior quality of English.
World business leaders from China, South Korea, Japan, Europe, and South America do not communicate in English. When they do, they have strong accents. But that hasn’t stopped them from doing business or being instrumental in initiating massive economic changes in their respective countries. Therefore, you are in good company if you have a strong accent. There is just one cardinal rule to follow, accent or not, when communicating to ensure the other person understands what you are saying.
An example that illustrates this point is the much-loved speech that Akio Toyoda, the charming CEO of Toyota, gave at his alma mater Babson College. Toyoda had the audience enthralled because his speech was emotional, and passionate and his delivery was impeccable despite the strong accent. Liberate yourself from these fears surrounding your diction. Our goal should not be to speak like a native English speaker but to speak coherently. So, take your accents in your stride, embrace them, and speak up confidently in meetings.
2. Forget accent; learn English
When I was doing Engineering, my roommate was from a small town in India and couldn’t speak English well. He requested my help to improve his grasp of the language and promised to buy me a cup of coffee. So, we would hold long conversations in English every evening over a shared cup of coffee. These talks helped him improve his English-speaking skills and made him a more confident communicator.
Today, he is one of the most recognised wealth managers in Central India, speaks accented but good English and gets work done without a hitch, says Rakesh. Remember, don’t worry about your diction; instead invest time in learning to speak the language by holding conversations with others.
Similarly, when I was in the US, I had a friend from a small Tamil Nadu town. He couldn’t speak English properly. We used to get together and watch English films with subtitles, the same ones many times over. This is an excellent exercise as it helps you improve your vocabulary and absorb the cultural nuances of English-speaking countries. Avoid action movies as they don’t have many dialogues. Instead, opt for intense drama films and watch them repeatedly.
There’s no denying that English is the lingua franca of the world, and according to a report, by 2021, more than two billion people will be studying English. It has become the preferred language of global businesses. However, let’s get one thing straight. English is a language, a means to communicate. It is not the communication itself. Communication is a mammoth subject that encourages you to celebrate your individuality, says Rakesh.
3. Practice, practice, practice
To summarise, understand that you can have a strong accent and still communicate well. These two aspects are not mutually exclusive. Instead, focus more on improving your English-speaking skills by reading books by authors known for their exemplary writing style, watching English movies with subtitles on, and speaking to others in English.
Don’t hesitate or feel scared of being judged. Speak up if you have something to say. If you remain quiet, you will never get your ideas across, and your confidence will keep plummeting. Your diction is only a small part of improving your English-speaking skills. How you convey your message is what makes you a seasoned communicator.