Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Accent and Effective Communication
Chloe Nina Ballesteros

No matter how good we are at what we do in this customer service oriented trade, nothing will come out of our efforts if we cannot communicate effectively. Like it or not, all of us must know how to communicate in English. English is the language that is universally understood in the field that we are in. In this multi-cultural community, it is inevitable to encounter customers, colleagues, bosses, and clients who do not share our native tongue, thus, English will connect the dots.

For reasons that are deeply rooted in culture and norms, a lot of us are hesitant to speak in English in the workplace. It must be realised that communicating effectively in English doesn’t rely on accent. We can convey our messages effectively regardless of whether our regional accent is obvious or not. Our aim should be that we ‘reduce’ our accent a little bit so as not to confuse. It is not necessary that we immitate a certain accent of English (American or British accents, for instance) to be considered effective. A French classical author once said that “the accent of one’s birthplace remains in the mind and in the heart as well as in one’s speech.” In learning English as a second language, therefore, one must focus more on learning how to put words together correctly and how to pronounce individual sounds and put them together, than focus on how to sound like a native speaker, because the latter is not possible unless the learner exposes him/herself in the culture of that native speaker for an indeterminable length of time.

Our accents may give away our birthplace but this should not be a hindrance for us to try and learn how to communicate in English following grammar rules and correct pronunciation. English can be learned. At the moment, we may be speaking and writing it with a couple of grammatical and pronunciation errors here and there, but at the end of the day it’s better than telling people that we can’t speak nor write in the language. Isn’t it frustrating to tell someone that you can’t help not because you don’t know how but because you can’t find words to explain yourself? Through constant practice and continuous learning, we will all get there eventually. We will all be competent communicators in English if only we open our minds and begin the learning process no later than NOW. How? Speaking only in English in the workplace is one small step that we can all take that will allow us to practice conversing in English. Another way is to expose ourselves more to English reading materials and TV programmes like CNN and BBC. If there is a chance, it will also help to attend courses that teach English as a second language. English is no more intimidating to learn than our own native languages. Besides, the aim of our use of English is to be understood and to be more effective in our respective designations, and not to sound posh or grand.

In conclusion, it is best to quote the African writer, Chinua Achebe in one of his interviews:

So my answer to the question: Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? Is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it as a native speaker? I should say. I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to be able to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry out his peculiar experience.