“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).