America is a melting pot of people from just about every country in the world. Most newcomers learn English when they get here and, if they’re already adults, will almost always speak with an accent. There is nothing wrong with having an accent.
It’s important to articulate your words correctly, but an accent can actually make a speaker sound more interesting. Have you ever noticed that people with a British accent are often taken more seriously? Their accent gives them an air of authority and superior intelligence.
Don’t Fake It
On the other hand, some executives and politicians will fake an accent because they think it makes them sound more “down home” and their audience will identify with them. It didn’t work for Hillary Clinton on this campaign stop.
Ms. Clinton is from Chicago, and while she spent much of her life in Arkansas as the wife of then Governor Bill Clinton, she never picked up a Southern accent – until now. If her attempt at a Southern accent was to make her audience feel like they were part of her team, it didn’t work. Her accent wasn’t authentic and distracted from her message.
It isn’t polite to mimic the accent of your audience. It’s offensive and people will think you’re making fun of them or talking down to them. Often people from other parts of the country discount Southerners because of their accents and think they are slow on the uptake.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth as Southern politicians increasingly dominate the national scene.
Show Your Respect
New immigrants work hard to assimilate into a new culture. My father was Dutch but he only spoke Dutch with his mother and brother as well as a few Dutch cousins.
As a child, I didn’t realize my father had an accent because the way he spoke was perfectly natural to me.
It’s hurtful to make fun of people with accents and tell jokes at their expense. It isn’t easy to master a crisp “R” or pronounce an “S” correctly. And let’s not forget the “L” sound, another tongue twister for many different nationalities.
Imagine yourself being relocated to Japan, Scandinavia or Greece. It certainly wouldn’t be easy.
When working with clients who have a problem with particular sounds, we use a thesaurus to find substitute words that have the same meaning but are easier for them to pronounce.
When you’re having a conversation with someone with an accent who is groping for the correct word, you shouldn’t finish his sentence for him. Give him time to think of the word and don’t offer to help unless requested to do so.
Take your cue from the speaker who may finally ask, “I can’t quite think of the word I want. Can you help me out?” Then politely ask, “Is this the word you want?” Certainly don’t laugh and embarrass someone when you see her struggling. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of a smirk?
Why Do People Fake an Accent?
People fake accents because they think it makes them sound smarter, richer, more cultured, and more memorable. But it can have the opposite effect.
A colleague once worked with the director of advertising in the U.S. for a British publication. She had a thick British accent. But it was clearly fake as the director was actually an American. Her staff laughed at her behind her back because her accent was so phony.
Always be yourself. That’s more than good enough to demonstrate your capabilities and be perceived as the authentic person that you are. You don’t need to adopt a fake accent to be perceived as a leader who is smart, competent and an engaging communicator.