Thursday, June 24, 2010

High Impact Communication Skills for Foreign-born Professionals: Surmounting the Accent Handicap

Yesterday, a friend called me for help regarding one of her former employees—a man in his late 30s and of Asian origin—who is looking for a job but is not doing well in interviews. And the central problem lies in his not being fully understood: Because of his accent, at least one or more words in just about every sentence he utters are not fully intelligible to the typical listener.

Since this is a problem I come across quite frequently when working with foreign-born executives and other professionals, I immediately asked my friend to pass on the following tips to this Asian gentleman:

1. Speak slowly, especially at the beginning of the conversation so that the interviewer can fine tune his or her antenna to your accent.

2. Clearly enunciate every syllable and consonant because that is the most effective antidote to an accent. So, for instance, if the person were uttering the words “….on the third day…,” make sure that the sound of the “d” in the word third is clearly distinct from the sound of the “d” that occurs at the beginning of the word day. Very easy to master and internalize with a little bit of practice.

3. Start preparing a list of words that, when uttered by you, are often not fully or easily understood by your audience. After identifying such terms, use some strategy or the other to avoid such “loss of communication” moments. For instance, use a synonym or synonymous phrase immediately after such a term. Alternatively, banish them from your spoken vocabulary until you are able to enunciate them perfectly.

4. When emphasizing something or when using fresh words, use synonyms, just as I did at a key moment during the spontaneous interview at Chicago’s O’Hare airport with a reporter for Houston’s ABC affiliate. [For video clip and a detailed discussion of how and why synonyms help offset the loss of communication that occurs from having an accent, see blog post of May 9.]

5. Use a good bit of nonverbal skills to project conviction and accentuate your points.

Summing up: If you are an immigrant who arrived in this country after the age of 13 (that magical number helps determine whether or not you will have an accent), and if you internalize the above strategies and tactics, there is no question that every oral communication of yours will be much more impactful and effective than would be the case otherwise, no matter which country you originated from, be it China, India, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador…you name it.

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