This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Facilitation & Evaluation at The Latimer Group.
Author Amy Chua said this, and she is right.
Speaking a language that isn’t your native tongue requires taking risks and facing difficulty. It requires embracing the idea that any imperfections are less important than communicating your opinion, feeling, or request.
In our workshops, we have the opportunity to meet talented professionals from around the globe. They are all English speakers, they all use English as a business language, and some of them have accents. Each time I hear one, I can’t help but think how impressive it is to be so fluent in a language as to leverage it professionally – especially with the level of complexity in the conversations they are having. It is remarkable. They are remarkable, and there are a lot of them.
But I also know that speaking with an accent doesn’t always feel like a badge you want to show off. I spent the first decade of my career teaching French and, at times, living in France, so I know firsthand how it feels to speak with an accent. Most often, I felt self-conscious of my accent and tried very hard to erase its evidence. I also felt frustrated at making mistakes in grammar or usage and not having the same level of vocabulary to express myself as I would in English. It was easy to focus on the struggle, and at the end of the day, I was often exhausted because of all the extra processing my brain was doing.
But with a few years of perspective and a lot more time spent analyzing communication, I now see it like Amy Chua does.
Especially in our current world, as virtual communication enables us to engage with more multi-lingual, multi-cultural audiences, we should celebrate those accented speakers as connectors. Those people who are brave enough to achieve fluency in not just one, but two, three, or sometimes even more languages have tremendous power to bring us together and create understanding.
Let’s also remember that language learning has many benefits that extend well beyond the ability to connect and communicate within another sphere. It enhances problem solving skills, verbal and spatial abilities, memory function, and creative thinking skills – all of which are highly valuable in any working environment.
So, if you ever speak with an accent, or work with someone who does, whether it is an internal colleague or external partner, take a minute to appreciate how impressive that is and consider how that enriches the work you do.
Let’s all find opportunities to be so brave.
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