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Dealing with Accents in Public Speaking - III

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As public speakers it is important for us to remember that our purpose is to communicate information to our audience. It is our responsibility to make sure that the audience understands what we are saying. This means that our choice of language and the concepts that we choose to share must be appropriate; that is, within our audiences level of comfort and understanding.

In addition to the concepts and vocabulary that we choose, we must also make sure that the audience can actually understand what we are saying.

If as speakers we talk so quietly that our audience can not hear us, then we have done no better than using concepts that are beyond our audience’s understanding. From their point of view it does not matter why they can’t understand us. It simply matters that they can’t, and it is up to us to rectify the situation.

That brings us to the sensitive subject of accents. As audience members, it would be wrong for us to judge the content of someone’s presentation based on their accent. The ideas and thoughts that they are communicating are completely separate from the way that they form words. Yet, if the audience is unable to understand the speaker then they are also unable to determine any value of the content (or receive any value).

As speakers, we need to do our best to minimize any accents so as to allow our audience to comprehend what we are communicating. That doesn’t mean completely eradicating an accent. It does however mean identifying and removing any extreme elements; for our audiences benefit.

But how do we go about accomplishing this?

If you are struggling with an accent here are a few ideas that may help:

Construct a list of words that you know you have difficulty pronouncing. Ask others who don’t have an accent if they can identify some for you. Start focusing on pronouncing the words in this list first.

Focus on words that you use most often. There’s not much point in learning to pronounce a word perfectly if you never use it..

Record yourself speaking and listen for mistakes. It is easy enough to do this with a tape recorder, but now with computers we have an additional benefit to recording. We can not only hear what we sound like, but with tools like Goldwave and Audacity we can also see what we sound like as the software charts our voice. This can give one more clue as to the differences between how you and those around you pronounce words.

Listen to the rhythm of the language. Different languages sound different not only because of the words but also because of how they flow. If native speakers of the language that you are learning, sound almost a lackadaisical to you, then you might sound harsh to them. Try mimicking the flow or rhythm to reduce your accent.

Slow down. Often we allow our nervousness to control the speed of our speech. As we speed up, our natural speech tendencies take over and our accents become more pronounced.

Read aloud each day. Ten to twenty minutes of practice each day will make a significant difference over time.

Routinely check the pronunciation guide for words in the dictionary. Each dictionary has an explanation of how words are to be pronounced along with instructions on how to use the guide.

Be patient with yourself. Like anything worth while, reducing your accent will take some time and effort; but don’t allow yourself to be discouraged. Being consistent in your approach will produce significant results in less time than you think.

Changing your accent so that your speaking is more comprehensible to those around you may seem overwhelming – However, with a few techniques and a consistent approach a significant difference can be made with less effort than you may expect.

David Mudie

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