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Accent? What Accent?

“He doesn’t understand your accent!” said a colleague in the same room during a particularly trying conference call to a guy at our Indian site recently.  Accent?  What accent?  I was, as usual, taking great trouble to annunciate clearly, speak into the speakerphone (yes, I know), avoid colloquialisms and allow frequent opportunities for feedback from the guy.  But I was getting nowhere.  “They have trouble with regional accents,” my colleague added, without giving me credit for not really having one.

I thought about that for a while and realised that he was, in a way, absolutely right.  Think about it:  Indians grow up speaking English.  They speak it in everyday conversation, use it all the time.  It’s a first language to them, not a second, just as it is to us.  But – and it’s a very big but – they do so with Indian accents of one kind another, and usually very strong ones.  That’s OK for them – they’re used to it, and it’s natural to them.  But when we Westerners address them with our apparently accent-free speech, we actually appear to have a comparably strong non-Indian accent.

Bear that in mind the next time you speak clearly:  you might do better faking an Indian accent instead (although your colleagues will look at you as though you’re insane).

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