How to turn your strong accent into your greatest advantage

Having a strong accent can be a real problem. You end up having to repeat yourself frequently and even then people have difficulty understanding you. Worse still you get passed over for promotions or lose business.

But it is possible to reduce your strong overseas accent so that it becomes one of your greatest advantages. Our program helps you communicate effectively with other English speakers without losing your identity.

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Probably, your English grammar and spelling are fine. You may be able to manage many of the difficult English sounds … and yet … you still have a strong accent? The secret is in learning the unique stresses and emphasise of the English language: something few other programs deal with.

Trying to reduce your accent rather than eliminate it is also a lot easier to achieve. Instead of being difficult to understand your accent becomes interesting, a talking point, something that makes you memorable for all the right reasons.

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How to turn your strong accent into your greatest asset.

Your accent is part of who you are. It shows that you are proud of where you come from and the values associated with that.

I am a dual national of Australia and Great Britain. I was brought up in the UK. I’ve lived in Australia for twenty years. Most Aussies think that I have a British accent, most of my British contacts think l have an Aussie accent. Why might that be? Simply put, l am proud of both parts of my heritage. When I first arrived in Australia, my British accent was a lot stronger than it is now. I used to get comments like, “Not another ‘f$#’ POM!” I’d run into difficulties being understood, although for me, it was mostly my vocabulary that was the issue. Of course my mother tongue is English, but it was still frustrating. Of course, if your first language is not English, then the problems are compounded.

I learnt to tone it down. I softened my hard northern vowels and learnt local expressions. I listened out for new words and noted the inflections and emphasis used.

Now people say “I do love your accent!”

If, like me, you weren’t born in Australia, your aim should be to make your accent one of your most exotic and exciting features.

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But why not eliminate your accent?

Good question! You could work towards that goal. However, for most adults the amount of effort required isn’t practical. Once you get into your thirties and forties the task of elimination becomes progressively and exponentially more difficult. We are at our most receptive to language learning before we go to school. By the time we reach late adolescence our ability to learn languages is tailing off. Once you’re into your forties it’s an uphill battle.

Of course it can be done. However, when you’re leading a busy life, with family and work commitments few of us have the time to devote to the kind of practice that is needed to eliminate a strong accent.

The other major issue I have with accent elimination is the damage it does to your identity. Elimination even sounds violent. Eliminating your accent effectively means disconnecting yourself from everything you value about your mother culture. It’s like willingly submitting to a personality-ectomy.

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There is an easier and better way

There is a crossover between effort invested and benefit accrued where you achieve ever diminishing benefits. It is easily demonstrated that perfectionism is an illusory goal. In the field of speech, our goal is to be clearly understood. If you have reached that point where your accent is no longer an obstacle to being understood, then there is little point pressing on to achieve a perfect local accent (whatever that may be). In fact, as I have outlined above, it could be detrimental to your sense of identity.

A psychologist once commented on my sense of perfectionism. She said eighty percent is good enough. She was of course referring to Pareto’s Law. Most of you will have heard of Pareto’s Law even if you didn’t know its name. It’s often called the 80/20 rule. It is a rule of thumb which states simply that for any field of human endeavour, eighty percent of the effort, cash, resources, personnel, or investment will be spent on twenty percent of a project. Ask any project manager, the last twenty percent of any project is very hard to achieve. It is often where the biggest project over-runs occur. If you’re building a cross-city rail tunnel, or a major regional hospital, then that last twenty percent is critical.

The corollary is that eighty percent of a project will only require twenty percent of the resources. In the world of personal development and of language learning, this is much more realistic, and easy to achieve within limited time and financial resources. Think of it! Very few people achieve a perfect 100% on their Batchelor’s degree and yet all degrees are considered equal once you’ve been out of uni a few years. Without tooting my own horn too loudly, I got a very good degree, but I didn’t get a perfect score in any of the subjects I took.

Let’s face it, if you are one of those rare high-achieving beings, you probably wouldn’t have an accent in the first place and therefore wouldn’t be reading this page.

This is the approach we use with our accent reduction program. We aim to get you to eighty percent. The last twenty percent might eventually be achievable, but it’s not necessary if your goal is simply to be understood. Our goal is to help you be understood easily by the people you work with.

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What Accent will I have when I’ve finished your program?

This is one we get asked a lot. The answer is, you’ll have your own accent.

Of course everyone has an accent, even if you don’t think you have one. The few people who think that they have no accent probably don’t mingle with many outside their social group. In the UK, where I was brought up, accents vary from town to town. Some accents are more difficult to understand than others. I have a relative in Northern Ireland whom I find really difficult to understand. In my early twenties I worked with a lovely lady from Glasgow in Scotland, there were some things that she said that were extremely hard to pick up. She once asked me to go to the supermarket at the end of the road which was called the Cooperative. Where I worked, in the sleepy market town of St Neots we shortened its name to the Co-op, from which you’ll understand that the first syllables sound like co in co-working and op as in operation. She made the first syllable sound like the cou part of coupé. There were other differences in emphasis and so on in the rest of the word which I won’t go into as I was lost at co-opl

In Australia and New Zealand, the accents are far more homogenous. There are slight differences in pace and word choice, For example Queenslanders tend to have a slower pace and add the tag “eh?” to the end of sentences. In some places the item of clothing you use to swim in is called either a cozzie or bathers. Accents tend to vary based on social aspirations rather than regions. As most of our clients are professionals we work to help you be understood by other professionals in Australia, New Zealand or the UK.

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Wouldn’t it be Better to Learn an American Accent?

You’d think so wouldn’t you? After all, there are more Americans and Canadians than Australians, Kiwis and Brits combined. The problem is that there are significant linguistic differences between North American English and the English that is spoken in the rest of the World. Of course all Englishes are a bit different. However, North American English uses very different stress patterns, spellings and some words have very different meanings.

Because of American cultural dominance, and latterly the Internet, some of these differences are diminishing. For example does it matter if colour is spelled “color” or “colour or if specialised is spelled with a z instead of an s as long as you understand what I mean? However, the major issue of rhythm remains. This is where I come back to my Scottish colleague in St Neots back in the eighties. The different rhythm and emphasis she placed on the word cooperative is what really threw me. One or two words might be OK, but when every other word has a different rhythm or emphasis overlaid on an Indian, Chinese or Italian accent, it becomes very difficult for your regular Australian to understand.

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Why bother attempting to reduce my accent at all?

Most of you reading this will come from countries where there are not just different accents but different languages to cope with in relatively small geographical regions. For example it is estimated that there are about 121 languages in India. Within each of those language groups there will be regional variations. The the UK, Ireland, the 7 United States, Canada and many other English speaking countries there are significant regional variations. In North America you’ll be widely exposed to Spanish and to a lesser extent French. In the UK and Ireland there are dozens of European languages to deal with as well as Welsh and Gaelic in certain parts of those countries. If you don’t make an effort with other people’s accents you’ll have a very narrow circle of acquaintances.

As we’ve already touched on, that variety does not exist in Australia. From Perth in the west to Sydney in the east and from Hobart in the south to Darwin in the Top End, the Australian accent is pretty much the same. You can fly for five hours and still be in Australia. Even in the smallest mainland state it takes a good three and a half hours to reach the border with New South Wales by the fastest road route. The distances are huge and the population is relatively small.

I’m sorry to speak ill of my compatriots, but this has made them very lazy when it comes to learning languages and specifically to dealing with different accents. They simply don’t need to make the effort, because everyone speaks English in pretty much the same way that they do. Many Aussies will put a strong accent in the “too hard basket” very quickly.

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A special mention for people from the SubContinent

If your accent is from India, Sri Lanka. Bangladesh or Pakistan you have additional problems with the “too hard basket.” India in particular has been very successful in the skills outsourcing market. Call centres for many multinationals are located in centres 8 like New Delhi. Bangalore and Mumbai. India has a well educated and skilled workforce. It is a relatively stable democracy and offers much lower wages than countries like Australia.

Consequently, when someone receives a call from you and they hear an Indian accent, the assumption is very quickly made that you are from a call centre and they will hang up on you, even if you’re calling from an accountant’s office on Kooyong Road.

I have had enquiries from employers who are desperate to place highly competent and valued Pakistani or Indian members of staff in front line positions but who have been held back because of precisely this problem.

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