TOASTMASTER Magazine – August 2004
(written by Julie Bawden Davis)
Although Tom, (not his real name) was more than qualified for his job as an accountant, he found himself continually passed up for promotions. It wasn’t until he left the company for another position that a former colleague told Tom the problem.
“He said my Indian accent held me back,” says Tom, who has since taken accent reduction courses, joined Toastmasters and is now a CTM. “I was difficult to understand, which explained why I wasn’t where I should have been in my career. Since taking accent reduction classes, I’ve advanced at work.”
Lisa Mojsin, director and founder of Accurate English in Los Angeles sees plenty of students like Tom. “Many people who have an accent aren’t understood and are often labeled as foreign and thought to have grammar problems,” she says. “The truth is they may have a strong grasp of English vocabulary and grammar, but their pronunciation isn’t correct. Their accent is distracting and listeners focus on that rather than the content of their message.”
Perhaps even more important than what you say is intonation, which Mojsin describes as the “music” of a language. “Each language has it’s own way of singing, which includes a distinct pitch and melody”, she says. “Use the wrong intonation and people won’t understand you, or they will misunderstand your intentions. The Indian language is very staccato; English can sound flat when spoken with this accent. Speak English with an Iranian accent and listeners may thing you’re being sarcastic or angry.”
“Many people come to me with a problem related to speaking up at work. We work on their accent and they rehearse and practice what they’ve learned at Toastmasters. Initially, they are often self-conscious about their accent and hold back, but their confidence gradually increases and they speak up more.”
Study accents and you invariably touch on the human brain and its wiring. Have you ever wondered why some people lose their accents and others don’t? It has to do with the formation of the brain’s neural network at a young age.
“Whether you lose your accent has to do with the age at which you became exposed to a new language,” says Mojsin. “Generally, if you are exposed to a new language during or before puberty, you’ll lose your accent,” she says.
Accent reduction is a matter of using new mouth muscles. You need the correct tongue position and lip movement to speak English correctly,” she says. “Once we explain this to students, a light bulb goes on, and the more they practice, the more quickly they improve.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]