Accent Reduction   * Make your English words easier to understand

Challenges of Speaking English with a Foreign Accent

There is nothing wrong with having an accent. We all have one! A 'foreign' accent can be charming and exotic and it's a part of your cultural identity.      

The goal for accent reduction is not to diminish any part of how a person communicates, but to improve the way in which a person communicates as they speak. The strength or 'density' of a non-English accent can be more or less noticeable, depending on what ya person is doing: speaking or singing.


If you often experience others asking you to repeat what you said, it might be due to your non-English accent. The degree to which you are understood also depends on who is in your audience or who your listener is. If you’re a business person with a dense accent and you speak to North American business people who are used to communicating in standard American English, it makes sense that pronouncing your words in a more North American way will make communication more effective. Pronouncing words in a similar way your audience does might demonstrate greater respect.


A foreign accent can be endearing. We hear many ads and news anchors with trademark British or Australian accents. The important thing is to be clearly UNDERSTOOD. It's not necessary to entirely eliminate an accent – but it is essential to be clearly understood when you talk, so that your listener doesn't have to struggle to understand your words. It’s especially important in any professional setting.


If you’re a singer, the delivery of a song might be impeded by an accent. Lyrics may not flow correctly when it comes to syllabic stress and correct prosody while singing an English song. This can hinder how the performers vocal delivery. 


In my opinion, if a second language will still be used in any professional way, the most desirable goal is to have the truest command of any language aimed at the market or audience who will be listening to you speak.


There are consequences if your words are slurred or “lazy” sounding. Research shows that any audience or listener will form opinions about your message and your work very quickly upon hearing a person speak. How you communicate verbally, including:

      - the intelligibility of your words

      - your vocal intonation

      - the rate of speed

      - the syllabic stress and schwa, and

      - your choice of vocabulary  ... will determine the success of how well you are understood. 



The EEOC  / U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  states this on their National Origin Discrimination FAQ page: 

An employer may base a job decision on your accent if your accent would materially interfere with your ability to perform the job. In all other cases, an employer may not treat you differently or harass you because of your accent. For example, an employer could refuse to hire someone whose accent interferes with his or her ability to communicate orally in English for a customer service job that requires extensive communication with English-speaking customers. However an employer could not refuse to hire the same person for a job that requires little, if any, spoken communication skills.




In 2001, Angelika Blendstrup, Ph.D. undertook a study in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, located in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She taped 5 different Silicon Valley professionals – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Argentine, German - and had them talk about their work for about 1 minute. All of the speakers on the tape had an accent, however, they were all fully employed in the Silicon Valley. She played this tape to Anglo American employers in the Silicon Valley and asked them to tell her whether they would hire the speakers, and on what level. The results were: 100% of the employers interviewed would not hire the professionals with the very strong accents, and if they were hired at all, they would only be employed at a low to mid range job level in the company.




Kathy says: I was taking an accent reduction training class in 2004. (I often take programs, courses and attend upgrading events). Here’s one of the best testimonials I’ve ever heard about foreign accents hindering people’s careers. 


One of the participants was a mature professional recruiter is from the Czech Republic. He stood and shared his plight with the class. He owns a recruiting company and has been in Canada 30 years. Chechyn is his first language. He recuruits people in the human health, life sciences, microbiology and medical field for job placements. Here is a transcript of his words:


“When I recruit, I interview a huge number of immigrants and people who apply from another country, and their accents are horrendous. A lot of these people don’t realize they cannot get the job if they don’t speak at a certain level, no matter how qualified they are. If I mention it to them, most of the applicants don’t believe it. They think that because they have a doctorate, or if they have a Ph. D., or if they have 20 pages of research material, that they can be the manager of something. A lot of these people need to accept the fact that they have a problem. Instead of being a manager at $80,000. a year, they will be a technician at $35,000. It’s very sad because whenever I mention it, people don’t want to hear it. They could have more opportunities if they reduce their accent.” 

“ How long will it take to reduce my accent?”


Everybody progresses at a different pace and it’s difficult to put an exact time on how long the process will take. But a person's attitude and their quality of practice will help to determine the rate of progress. According to Lorna Sikorski of LDS Associates in Santa Ana, CA: This is not a casual commitment. Accent modification is a difficult process. "I liken it to learning a physical skill that becomes second nature…"