Do you have a talented employee with poor English skills? Do you wish you could help him or her but are afraid of coming across as insensitive or discouraging? Here are five tips for helping your employee get the help they need:
- Begin by emphasizing the employee’s value to the company. If your employee feels that they are valued, they are more likely to embrace constructive feedback.
- Ask the employee how they feel about their English skills. Often, people with poor speech know they need to get better. If your employee is capable of accurately assessing his or her deficiencies it will be easier for you to get their buy-in for training.
- Avoid using the phrase “accent reduction” – the term tends to put people off. Begin by suggesting “articulation courses” or “speech enhancement”.
- Make the lessons voluntary. It’s never a good idea to force training on an employee who doesn’t want it. Your employee will become bitter, and the training will not go well.
- Offer to compensate your employee for lessons. Think about the added value your company will have when your top talent can truly express themselves in important meetings!
Suki Kim gives an inspired, unconventional TED talk here. Ms. Kim spent a few years teaching in North Korea and her stories from that time are heartbreaking and harrowing. They deserve to be heard, and thankfully, despite having some difficulty articulating certain words and phrases in English, each idea is clearly conveyed. Let’s take a look at a few things Ms. Kim does to ensure she is being understood.
1) She reads from a script – For many speeches, it’s best to read from a loose outline. But if your English is not perfect, it may be better to write the entire speech out. Make sure to look up the pronunciations for the words you have trouble with, and circle them in your speech so you know to slow down and take your time with the articulation when you pronounce them.
2) She speaks slowly – I repeat this quite a bit in this blog because it’s so important. You can fix 50% of your articulation problems simply by pausing at the end of each thought, and taking your time with the language.
3) She uses simple words- There is no need to use complicated language. Some of the best speeches in history used very simple language.
It should be noted that Ms. Kim’s use of live music while speaking is odd, and not to be reproduced. It is your ideas and your words that are most important when speaking. It’s best not to do anything that will pull attention from these important factors.
Many people believe that accent reduction is for recent immigrants and ESL students. The truth is accent reduction is about building spoken English skills, and anybody can benefit from that, even native English speakers. It’s possible someone could be a native speaker of English, and still have a thick regional accent, or serious articulation issues.
But what about the case of Scott Walker? Mr. Walker is a presidential candidate who is a native speaker of English. He speaks with a thick Wisconsin accent and has reportedly been undergoing accent reduction lessons in order to neutralize his accent and make himself more marketable to a wider audience. Is accent reduction necessary for him?
I would argue no. Mr. Walker’s English is good, and despite his accent reduction lessons, he has not reduced his accent very much, as is evidence from the video above. I would suggest he embrace his accent and use it as way of discussing where he’s from, and what he’s about.
For me, accent reduction is about building English fluency, and avoiding miscommunication. It isn’t about changing who you are. It’s simply about being understood, and feeling a part of the cultural fabric.
Many new clients of mine confess to being confused about which direction they should head if they feel they are having trouble with a number of issues pertaining to their presentations. Articulation? English fluency? Basic presenting skills? Vocal training? Where to start?
Here are my thoughts:
1) If your English is rusty enough that you feel you are frequently misunderstood (say more than 20% of the time) then work first and foremost on reducing your accent. An accent reduction specialist can help you sharpen your speech, and put your best foot forward. You’re not going to be able to focus on presenting skills, or optimize your training, if you are struggling to be understood.
2) If your English is decent, consider taking a voice and speech class first and foremost. 80% of our impression of a speaker is non-verbal. Your audience will make a decision about you within the first 60 seconds of your presentation, and that decision will be based largely on the tone of your voice and the way you move.
3) Once you have mastered articulation and vocal projection, and you know how to convey confidence with your body language, start working on basic presenting skills. Learn how to develop your opener, discussion section, and closing section. Learn how to master powerpoint design. Lean how to use contrast, comparison, analogy and metaphor.
If you take a gradual approach to presentation training, you’re in a much better position to grow your craft.