Raising the topic of English pronunciation in the workplace.
TALKING ABOUT ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION and accent IN THE WORKPLACE
Managers often ask me ‘How should I raise the issue of unclear English with a staff member?’.
We’re going to cover off some important things to consider when talking about English Pronunciation and accent at work with staff.
Typically this scenario includes a staff member who speaks English as a second (or third or fourth) language, who is very good at their work but has difficulty with English pronunciation. These pronunciation difficulties mean they’re not easily understood by their colleagues or clients.
Do you have staff who are being ‘held back’ by unclear English?
What did you do? Discuss the issue with them? Avoid raising the issue? Perhaps you avoided it because you weren’t sure how to bring it up, or once raised, you weren’t sure what to do next.
I believe passionately that assisting people who have unclear English to speak clear English changes their life.
Going from unclear speech to clear speech means a life with more positive interactions, less frustration and a lot more confidence.
Life is easier when you are understood the first time. How do I know? Because I hear it from my clients over and over again.
Most people want to succeed at work, consequently they want and need, to know what’s holding them back.
I have assisted hundreds of job seekers who failed to get past the first job interview for many months before someone said “you need to improve your spoken English”.
I’ve worked with hundreds of international professionals who feel worried and frustrated because their colleagues don’t understand them easily. Many of these professionals then employ coping strategies like emailing instead of talking on the phone or face-to-face and avoiding sharing their thoughts in meetings.
I’ll share my thoughts with people-managers raising the issue of unclear pronunciation in the workplace and if, when and how it can help staff from non-English speaking backgrounds.
During my 15 years of working with HR department’s, training managers, direct with CEO’s and line managers I have seen the issue of English pronunciation difficulties handled very well and very poorly!
Before we go any further I’d like to highlight that this isn’t about getting rid of a person’s accent.
Accents are wonderful and everyone on earth has one. Many people feel their accent is a very important part of their identity and is a strong link to their nationality. You can have a very strong accent and still be easily understood by listeners.
A strong accent does not necessarily mean your English will be unclear to listeners. There are differences of pronunciation that contribute to how clear we are to listeners and some differences that do not effect how clear we are to listeners.
The aim of training such as this is that people can be understood by others easily, for effective communication. It’s all about people being easily understood by others so they are not held back in their personal and professional lives by unclear speech.
This is the same as an English speaker needing to speak Mandarin or French clearly to successfully use it at a professional level in China or France. It’s about ‘yes, gotcha’ rather than ‘sorry, what was that?’.
So, let’s say you have a good, motivated, hard working team member but they have unclear English pronunciation that IS causing problems for them when communicating at work.
Step 1. Focus On ‘Pronunciation’ Not ‘Accent’
I often hear HR professionals and managers talk about an employee’s accent. I encourage you to stop talking about accents and start talking about English pronunciation. The accent is not the problem, it’s a few areas of pronunciation that could be developed so that people catch what they are saying easily. The aim is not and should not be to reduce a person’s accent.
What is important here is not ‘accent’, as I mentioned earlier. The issue is about how clear they are. So what we are focusing on is not ‘accent’, it is how clear their ‘English pronunciation’ is to listeners.
Don’t use the word ‘accent’ with your staff member. Talk about ‘English pronunciation’ because it’s about clarity, not accent.
Step 2. Build Awareness
Is the employee aware that they are sometimes unclear?
Most managers have a performance review process in place, and most reviews involve the opportunity for discussion about communication. If your review template doesn’t, perhaps it’s time to include one.
During the discussion about communication, ask the individual for their thoughts on their communication skills, and raise the topic of spoken communication skills.
You can start with positive framing; ‘So you’ve been speaking English a long time and your English is very good. How do you feel about it?’ or ‘Obviously your understanding of English is excellent. How do you feel about your spoken English?’ or ‘You are doing so well using English as a 2nd language everyday! How is it going for you? Is there anything you find challenging?’.
Introduce the concept of clarity by saying things like ‘Do people ever ask you to repeat what you’ve said?’ or ‘How do you feel about your pronunciation skills in English?’ or ‘English Pronunciation is such a challenging area for people who speak English as a 2nd language. How are you going with it?’ or ‘Do you feel like people understand you easily?’.
If they identify that sometimes people don’t understand them easily, discuss when it happens – ‘Does this happen in certain situations? For example if you are on the phone or if you are nervous or speak fast?’
If the person is just starting to become aware they have difficulties with pronunciation set a few goals around paying more attention to it over the coming weeks.
For example ‘So, you mentioned sometimes you feel like people don’t understand you easily. Between now and our next meeting I’d like you to think about what situations this happens in and have a think about what could be causing the problem. For example, were you speaking very fast or could there have been a word that you are pronouncing differently?’.
By doing this you are engineering pronunciation awareness. A critical first step is giving the person time to become aware of the problem.
The ideal scenario is for the staff member to come to the realisation that they want to improve their English pronunciation themselves.
Your role is to guide and steer them down the path of realisation. If the motivation to improve comes from the staff member themselves rather than from a manager they are likely to achieve much better results from training.
Step 3. Offer Assistance
At the next meeting review what they have experienced.
If the person is having to repeat themselves often and people aren’t able able to understand them regularly they will most likely have become much more aware of this occurring.
Once clarity is identified as an issue, in most cases the person will be open to discuss potential solutions or they may have looked into some possibilities themselves.
If your team member is ready, you could provide some training options as follows:
‘So you’ve identified that English pronunciation is an area you’d like to improve. That’s great. Here are some English pronunciation courses I know of. Have a look at these and see if there’s something you would like to do.
We’d like to support you by providing you with time and / or funding for training. Remember that improving English pronunciation takes time and effort, so you’ll need to do around 15 minutes a day of practice for a period of time. Have a think about it.’
Some managers reserach training options to discuss with their employee and some encourage the employee to research options themselves. Training can be face to face, phone or skype or online video or a combination of these. Speech Active training is a combination of online and 1:1 phone training because we find this gets the best results for busy profeesionals. See more on Choosing English Pronunciation Training.
Employers can support their staff by offering part or full funding of English pronunciation training and or suggesting they complete their lessons during work hours.
If your workplace has lots of ESL speakers who would be interested in improving their English pronunciation skills a course could be offered as a PD option to staff.
Discuss the option of engaging in English pronunciation training with your employee. Be sure to mention that changing pronunciation skills takes time and effort, so regular training and practice will be required.
Resistance to engage in training.
If the staff member has unclear speech but does not view it as something that needs improvement after this process, there’s probably not that much that can be done at this stage.
As with all training, if staff are made to do training by their employees but don’t think they need it, outcomes are poor.
This is damaging to both parties. The employee is annoyed at having to complete the training and feels undermined. As a result they don’t do the practice, so they don’t improve. This makes the employer frustrated because there is no change occurring.
The best option is to keep encouraging development of their awareness of their spoken communication and continue talking about it.
One day they may realise that unclear pronunciation is holding them back and decide that they want to do something about it.
Step 4. Respect Privacy
I’ve been asked by a number of managers if it is helpful to suggest that colleagues of the staff member enrolled in the training can help by correcting the person’s pronunciation.
If an employee engages in English pronunciation training it should most definitely be kept confidential.
Pronunciation and the way a person speaks is a very personal things. Very few of our clients are happy for their colleagues to know they are undertaking training in this area. Most of our clients want it to be kept confidential.
Keeping it confidential will avoid unwanted attention being drawn to the person’s pronunciation and speaking skills. They should be given the opportunity to work on improving their spoken English without unwanted scrutiny from their colleague
It is for privacy reasons also that online training suits many people. Allowing them to complete their training in the privacy of their own home and at their pace.
Remember that many people feel strongly about keeping English pronunciation training confidential at work and do not want their speech and pronunciation skills commented on by other staff or colleagues.
Step 5. Get The Ball Rolling
If someone is being held back by their pronunciation, in the vast majority of cases they will want to do something about it.
If you’re a people-manager or recruiter, giving people that help is very rewarding.
Assisting employees with this area is hugely satisfying because it directly impacts confidence, career opportunities and relationships with colleagues.
My ultimate advice; start the conversation in a positive way and you’ll see the benefits.
Speech Active Online English Pronunciation Training has been created specifically for busy professionals.
Staff can access their comprehensive video and audio program online anytime, from anywhere.
Please see our English Pronunciation Course Tour Video to better understand how our training works.
We have a ‘Business Package’ for staff which includes 6 months access to a Speech Active tailored online course, before and after English pronunciation assessments, 3 phone training sessions, progress reporting to managers and more.
More Options: If your budget doesn’t allow for the business package then consider enrolling your employee in our tailored English Pronunciation Courses ($596 AUD) and adding an English Pronunciation Assessment ($158) and / or phone sessions ($136).
Please Call Us To Discuss
We’d be delighted to discuss your staff member’s English pronunciation skills with you or directly with them.
To discuss further, please call Georgie on +61411 295 828 or email us at: info @ speechactive.com
We look forward to hearing from you.
and the Speech Active team, Lorelie, Laura, Antony and James
Raising the topic of English pronunciation in the workplace.
Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPath) and CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.
Georgie is the creator the world’s leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student and presents regularly at Universities.
If you’ve ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you’ll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence.