Overcoming Foreign Accent Barriers: Communication in Multicultural Professional Relationships

Straight-forward Psychology Behind Foreign Accents

Communicating with a professional who speaks with a foreign accent can be frustrating.  You can overcome accent barriers in your work environment.  There is a psychology behind accent reduction.    It’s practical psychology worth discussing.  Both the person with the accent and the person with whom the accented professional is communicating are involved.  It is psychology worth discussing because it suggests solutions for repairing communication breakdown between “accented” and “non-accented” individuals.  Let us start by opening up to the concept of defense.

Bridging the Waters of Defensiveness and Blame

When a person speaks English as a second language with a foreign accent, a defensive mindset can develop.  This defense is based on the following premise. If a professional’s speech becomes the topic of conversation, he, in many cases takes it personally.  They sometimes view it as a judgment against them.  Sometimes people are truly judging the individuals with the accents, and sometimes, they are not.  Regardless, both the person speaking with the accent and his communication partner can resolve this.

Sometimes communication partners judge accented professionals.  They place blame for the communication breakdownThis blame causes accented individuals to be less receptive to changing their speech behaviors.  Many times the communication partner experiences a lack of connection to the person with the accent.  They experience this lack of connection when communication breaks down.  This loss of connection can then trigger a negative emotion.  Knowing this, the accented communication partner can separate these negative emotional reactions and subtle judgmental behaviors from their own self-concepts.

Replacing Defensiveness with Compassion

Repair Methods for Accented Professionals

The accented professional, RATHER THAN TAKING OFFENSE, can RESPOND WITH COMPASSION to the communication partner.  They can empower themselves to repair communication breakdown.  Knowing that their communication partners simply want to connect on a personal level can empower them.  Bilingual professionals can then employ methods such as:

  1. Speaking more slowly
  2. Watching communication partners for body language signs of understanding or misunderstanding
  3. Repeating what they’ve said
  4. Asking communication partners if they understand
  5. Using different words to convey their message
  6. Saying each word completely
  7. Participating in accent modification with a certified specialist

Repair Methods for Non-accented Professionals

“Non-accented” communication partners can choose to hold a compassionate emotion instead of a negative emotion toward accented professionals.  Instead, communication partners can respond with empathy and compassion.  They can focus on the intention behind the accent rather than the complications.  Non-accented communication partners can focus on the genuine intentions of accented professionals. Focusing on the intentions instead of the complications will pay off.  Bilingual professionals will be more receptive to discussing communication breakdown and more open to trying techniques to communicate more clearly.

Overall, “non-accented” consumers of professionals with accents can employ methods such as:

  1. Becoming aware of any judgments made toward the bilingual professional
  2. Shifting judgment to compassion; letting them know you respect them and their qualifications, skills, experience, and even their personality and that you’re sorry you do not understand them.
  3. Speaking honestly; gently telling them you didn’t understand what they said.
  4. Asking the accented professional to speak more slowly.
  5. Asking the accented professional to repeat their messages.
  6. Gently persisting; continue to ask them to repeat what they’ve said.
  7. Asking the accented professional to say their messages in a different way.
  8. Using body language;  naturally letting your face and rest of your body show your confusion with understanding them.
  9. Asking them to “Tell me more about that;” by asking the accented professional to tell you more, you confirm your interest in their message and your disinterest in pointing out their downfalls.  Furthermore, this is another way of getting background information to help you fill in the “blanks”; to repair broken communication.

Partnering in Today’s Multicultural Environment

Communication repair is a partnership between the “accented” and “unaccented” individual.  Accented professionals can employ the communication repair methods addressed above.  They can seek accent reduction.  They can learn to refine their specific  speech patterns to make their English sound more natural to native English speakers.  

The responsibility of the communication partner is to attempt to repair communication and be compassionate for this person who is speaking a language other than their native language.  When community members realize how a foreign language can challenge the formulation of these international professionals’ messages, they can act with compassion.  Speech patterns are merely habits that take time and effort to change.  Understanding this can result in more awareness of any judgments. Although we use the term “accented,” the truth is that as community members, if we were to speak in the accented professional’s language, WE WOULD BE THE ONES WITH THE ACCENT

Communication is a partnership.  When both parties hold up your their end of the partnership, they can expect to get more back in return.  Congratulations on doing your part for supporting effective bilingual communication repair in today’s’ multicultural environment.

Leave a comment

Your comment

Site designed by: Webstylings