January 20, 2009

If you speak with an accent, read this! Guest post by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore



Last week a workshop participant came to me after my presentation to tell me that she was very embarrassed to speak publicly because of her heavy accent. (Even though she spoke 3 languages fluently, she was embarrassed because she spoke one of them with an accent!)

I told her to begin her next presentation like this:

Good morning. If you haven’t yet heard my accent, you soon will. That’s because I’m presenting in English today. If I were speaking in Italian, French or Russian, I could speak with almost a perfect accent. I’m still a bit rough with Mandarin, much like I am with English. I hope that you’ll honor me by asking me to repeat anything that I say that is too heavily accented to be easily understood. With that, the first point….

When I speak in the deep south, my New York accent can sometimes get in the way of the message. I’m likely to bring it up to my audiences by saying something like: Some of you may have detected a slight northern accent (and they all laugh!). Yes, I’m a Yankee. But I think it may be okay because my husband is from North Carolina - Thomasville - and he has said that I’m officially Southern, by marriage. One very proud group of Southerners actually gave me a standing ovation!

Powerful presenters remove obstacles between themselves and their listeners. They help their audiences and buyers feel comfortable so that they can hear. If you have an accent, help your buyers/listeners get past the obvious. You don’t want them sitting there not hearing because they are either trying to place the accent (hmm, I wonder if she is from Jersey or Long Island), or turning themselves off because they have to work too hard to understand, or their bigotry gets in the way.

Take the offense. Help others feel safe. Set yourself up for success.

Here are 5 more public speaking tips for non-native speakers.

What are your ideas to overcome speaking with an accent?

For more great posts like this one, visit Sue's blog, SpeakerSue Says...

9 comments. Please add yours! :

Laura said...

Everyone has an accent!

Don't apologize for it. And don't bring attention to it (people will do it for you!)

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

Merci beaucoup Lisa. I get very nervous speaking in French. This will be perfect for me (as soon as I can translate it!)

Ms. Lucy said...

Love this tip...I often thought that reminding people of what we feel self conscious about can actually hinder the presentation. But, in this case, the way you suggest to deal with it, is so natural and probably endearing to your audience. I will definitely suggest this to my ESL students. Thanks.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Laura, I disagree that people will bring attention to your accent. A lot of audience members are uncomfortable speaking up in a presentation, and I imagine some would feel embarrassed to tell the speaker they can't understand her. It seems like common courtesy to break the ice and give the audience permission to interrupt and ask her to slow down or repeat herself. I wouldn't suggest apologizing, but I would agree with putting it out there right up front to put the audience at ease.

Prof. Michele said...

I love your post! I try to tell my students this, but I know they would rather hear it from you.
I'm a yankee also married to a New Orleans man but earned a degree in the south- so I always have some kind of accent/dialect.

Ms. Lucy said...

Hi Lisa,

I just wrote a post on accents on my ESL blog and I linked you!

Please come check it out:

www.esl-ealandmore.blogspot.com

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for all your comments! I'll make sure SpeakerSue gets over here to see them!

kare anderson said...

What smart, specific and actionable ideas - what one would expect from thoughtful Sue. A companion idea: somewhere in that upfront explanation ask the audience -
"Do any of you also speak English as a second language?"
Great.
Please tell us something in your native language..
Ah, now what did you say?
Thanks! ...."

Sue said...

Thanks, Lisa, for posting this and for the great discussion points, too. Kare, you, as always, are wonderful with your ability to make others shine. I love your inclusive idea.
I'm quite thankful that many of you see the benefit and beauty of taking the offensive, and being darn proud of who you are and what you bring. I remember a participant at a 2 hr workshop (years ago) who came up to me after the program and said, "I got it! Long Island!" And she continued, "I've been trying to place your accent the entire time you were speaking and (and now she points to a colleague), he said it was Brooklyn, but I told him he was wrong, and that it was either Jersey or LI. I finally decided it was LI. Right?" Two hours! For the 2 hours that I was trying my hardest to make points that might help her, she was struggling to figure out where my accent was from! I didn't know if I should laugh or cry.
My goal is to take away any distraction that might keep them from hearing my message.
Thanks again!
SpeakerSueSays.com

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