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Dealing With Accents in Public Speaking - II

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In our previous article we discussed accents and the problems that they can cause for speakers. We talked about how important it is for our audiences to understand us – if they can’t understand then there isn’t much point in the presentation.

It is also important; however, to remember that an accent is part of who someone is. By asking someone to rid themselves of an accent we are asking them to rid themselves of part of who they are. If I’m going to listen to someone speak, then I want to hear their entire message; not just the words, but the entire message that is being communicated. Part of that message comes through in the way that they naturally express themselves.

I also need to keep in mind how biased I am. I mentioned that Canadians believe themselves to be the most unbiased people. In fact, they believe it so strongly that I would call it a bias…

In general, Canadians also believe that they don’t speak with an accent or have any regional nuances to their language (eh?). Of course we actually do, we’re just (once again) biased.

When I was a teenager I spent a couple of summers living in Texas. I was shocked when my peers started to make fun of the way I spoke. It started when they poked fun at my stereotypical use of the word “eh” and went on from there. At the time I would have expected it to be more appropriate for the “bland accent free Canadians” to make fun of the typical southern drawl - but such was not the case. When I stopped to think about it, the nuances that they were pointing out about my speech were actually correct.

What does this mean? Well once again, I have to realize that I am personally biased. When I’m listening to a speaker’s accent more than the message because it “sounds different” I have to remember it may only sound different compared to my preconceived notions of the language. Those preconceived notions may or may not be accurate. It’s quite a dichotomy that I have created here. I started off talking about the responsibility of the speaker to be understood and ended up talking about the responsibilities of the listener. So the question is, “Who is responsible for dealing with the accent?”

The answer of course is both the listener and the speaker. It is the listener’s responsibility to make sure that they are listening to the message, not the accent. It is the listener’s responsibility to accept differences in the way we speak. It is the listener’s responsibility to remain as unbiased as possible.

It is however the speaker's responsibility to make sure that they are speaking in a manner that the audience can understand. Just as the use of vocabulary and background information is important, taking an accent into consideration is also important. The speaker needs to make sure that their accent isn’t interfering with the audience’s comprehension. So what if it is? What does the speaker do then?

In our next newsletter I will discuss with you a few ideas that can help reduce the impact of an accent without removing it. These will assist the speaker in communicating their entire message – being able to articulate both the words and the emotion effectively.

David Mudie

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