If English is not your first language you’re probably familiar with the look of confusion that comes over your listener’s face or the repeated requests to repeat yourself when your accent isn’t understood. It can be embarrassing, or even annoying after a while. Rather than giving up and walking away or repeating the same thing over and over there are 5 simple steps you can take to get the conversation up and running again.
- Slow down your speech.
Take it easy on your listener and give them a chance to catch up. Some languages just sound fast to our American ears (and sometimes it really is). That “fast-talk” perception can come through in your accented English. Sometimes a heavy accent can take people by surprise. In the process of trying to listen to you and wondering what kind of accent you have they can’t follow what you’re saying. Don’t be too extreme in slowing your speech. If you talk too slow you may risk sounding insulting, like you’re trying to talk to a young child. Slow your speech down just enough to pronounce the words in a relaxed manner and pause between phrases.
- Ask your listener if he or she understands you.
They may be uncomfortable letting you know they didn’t understand what you just said or they may not want you to feel embarrassed. Let them know it’s ok to admit they didn’t understand you. The goal is to successfully communicate with each other. It takes both partners to carry a conversation. They may only need you to repeat the last word, or maybe they didn’t catch the first thing you said. A simple “Does that make sense?” may be all you need to keep the conversation going.
- Start with the main idea.
For example, if saying “I need to reschedule the conference call to next week because we’re still waiting for the report” is met with blank stares. Try something like this, “I need to talk about the conference call. It’s scheduled for Thursday with Diane and Jim. I need to reschedule it. The report isn’t ready. “The first sentence gives your listener a context for what you are about to talk about. Providing details in short direct sentences helps fill in the gaps. Give your listener a general idea of what your topic is about. Start with the main topic of your statement and then fill it in with more detail.
- Use gestures to support your message.
Sometimes a few visual aids help clear up any misunderstanding. In the previous example, try using a hand gesture like your talking on the phone and/or pointing to your calendar. Keep the gestures simple and relevant to the main idea. One or two should be all that is necessary to help your listener understand.
- Be patient but persistent.
Keep in mind, everyone has an accent. There is no one single best way to speak English. When people are struggling to understand each other it’s no fun for anyone involved. Patience and a sense of humor will keep you both from getting flustered. Stay calm and realize this is only a momentary problem. Eventually, you will both figure it out sooner than later.