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The Pros and Cons of Losing a Foreign Accent vs. Reducing a Foreign Accent

Maybe you are struggling with a foreign accent and have lost some self-confidence at work because of it.  You are repeating yourself frequently (and that’s getting old real fast), other people jump in and explain what you just said or meant, you see blank stares or people responding off-topic to what you just said, or someone at work has told you were not selected to do the presentation because of your accent.

Research shows that your listeners grow tired of having to try to translate the message when you hard to understand.  Your listener will stick with you for only so long before shutting down and stop listening.  This puts you at a disadvantage.  You have a couple of choices: Lose your accent completely or reduce your accent.  Here are the advantages and disadvantages of both. 

Losing your accent completely means that you will adopt the entire language you are trying to sound like.  That means you will learn every vowel and consonant pronunciation, tone, grammar, rhythm, rate, and melody of the language you wish to sound like.

Reducing your accent means that you will adopt some of the language characteristics that you are trying to sound like and only the parts of the language that will aid in improving your intelligibility the most.

What is the better option for you? I am asked this question a lot and because the decision is entirely up to what is best for you, I will give you the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

Disadvantages of Losing an Accent

  1. When you lose an accent completely, it means you are willing to give up your identity to a certain degree.
  2. Learning new sounds that you’ve never had to pronounce before is extremely difficult. On average, there are 8-12 sounds you probably don’t make.
  3. The process can take years. Let’s face it, you learned the sound of your entire native tongue by the time you were 10 months old.  By that, I mean you were responding to those sounds only and ignoring sounds of another language.  Learning sounds you never learned to hear and produce is not going to happen overnight.

Advantages of Losing an Accent

  1. Your culture and background will no longer be identifiable based on the way you speak. This might be exactly what you want.
  2. It will completely remove your linguistic liability at work.
  3. You don’t have to worry that people won’t understand you.

Disadvantages of Reducing an Accent

  1. Reducing an accent is still hard work (but easier than losing an accent) and…
  2. It’s time-consuming. No matter how many areas of speech and language you decide to work on, it will take daily practice for you to create the neural pathways in your brain to make a behavior change a habit.  This may take up to a month to learn one new habit (one sound, for example).  If there are multiple areas, well, you get the idea….each one takes at least that much time.
  3. You may not be clear about what to do first, or second in order to have the most impact.

Advantages of Reducing an Accent

  1. By reducing or modifying your accent you will increase your chances of being better understood.
  2. Your listeners’ perception of you will increase because they aren’t struggling to translate your messages.
  3. You will sound more competent, credible and trustworthy.

What advantages or disadvantages have I missed?  Please share below.

Mastering these higher level skills is key to successful communication. If you feel you are missing important skills, why not take a course just in time for meeting your 2017 communication goals? Click here to hear more about this course, Be Understood: The Ultimate Guide for Speaking Fluent English.

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About the Author Lynda Stucky

Lynda Stucky coaches mid-senior level executives on using their speech and voice effectively to establish credibility, position themselves within their company, and enhance their reputation as a topic authority. She provides training through one-on-one coaching and online courses to reduce foreign accents, “redd-up” regional accents, and teach speech and voice branding for image control. She is President of ClearlySpeaking, and is a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist. She is the author of "Voice Branding for Executives: How to Align Your Speech, Language, and Voice Skills with Your Professional Goals." Her background in speech pathology offers unique skills for dealing with professional communication skills in the corporate world. She believes communication skills should not hold anyone back from achieving personal and professional goals.

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