Attending meetings, seminars, group discussions, and contributing to them by articulating our thoughts provide a platform to our ideas that can, probably, effect massive changes. But more often than not, we find ourselves tongue-tied, bursting with views, but unable to communicate them to our audience. The words are there, on the tip of our tongue, eager to be sprouted, but held back viciously by our lack of confidence. Numerous factors contribute to our fear of speaking out in public, like being petrified of being ridiculed for our strong accent when speaking English. Unfortunately, this is not an exception but very much the norm across sectors. In India, being educated in a vernacular medium, not using English to communicate at home, being multilingual with more emphasis on native languages than English, and lesser exposure to English media are reasons behind a strong accent. A native accent is not worrying and does not reflect one’s communication proficiency. Even those in the English world have strong accents depending on which region they come from, and it doesn’t stop them from being consummate communicators.
Eloquent communication has less to do with how a language is spoken and more to do with other factors, including one’s knowledge of the subject matter, confidence, and delivery style. Though commendable, correctly enunciating words doesn’t guarantee good communication as exemplified by this report that states native English speakers are some of the worst communicators.
Our hesitation to communicate in English due to our perceived flawed diction and subsequent fear of mockery is also rooted in our colonial past. More than 200 years long colonial imposition rendered in our minds an exalted position of the English language. We tend to idolise those with flawless English and minimal diction, while berating ourselves for not meeting the, sometimes, impossibly high standards we place on ourselves. We confuse good accent with good communication, and it is critical to understand the two are not the same.
There is no denying the expansive powers of the English language and its growing preference among business houses in traditionally non-English speaking countries and learning the language will only help us manoeuvre the complex world of international business and culture. However, it is also essential to understand that the language is just as useful when reflecting our more diverse backgrounds. Indian companies must create a non-judgemental environment that enables employees to speak in English, if they so choose, irrespective of their diction. Only when diverse dictions are embraced, and judgements cast aside, that we as a society will feel more comfortable communicating our ideas.
So what steps can we take to overcome this mental barrier that a strong diction hampers communication? How can we become confident enough to express our ideas in a social setting without fearing judgement or ridicule? Rakesh Godhwani, Founder, School of Meaningful Experiences, shares some insights through his weekly videos, Conversations with Rakesh.
Overcoming diction troubles
“I did not study in an English medium school and feel I am not good at communication because of my accented English. So I tend to keep quiet in meetings. What should I do?,” This is one of the most common questions I get when I teach classes in communication and give webinars, says Rakesh. It is disheartening to know that people equate strong diction with poor communication, when, in fact, they are two different things.
This question, Rakesh adds, can be broken into two main parts. Why do we think we should not speak in meetings because we have a strong accent? And how can we remedy this?
Many of us suffer from a form of communication anxiety. A considerable percentage of India’s population has studied in vernacular medium – only 17 per cent goes to English medium schools – and feel conscious about their strong accents or, supposedly, inferior quality of English.
World business leaders from China, South Korea, Japan, Europe, or South America do not resort to English when communicating. When they do, they have strong accents. But that hasn’t stopped them from doing business or being instrumental in initiating massive economic changes in their respective countries. Therefore, if you have a strong accent, you are in good company. There is just one cardinal rule to follow, accent or no, when communicating, ensure the other person understands what you are saying. An example that illustrates this point is the much-loved speech that Akio Toyoda, the charming CEO of Toyota, gave at his alma mater Babson College. Toyoda had the audience enthralled because his speech was emotional, passionate and his delivery was impeccable despite the strong accent.
Liberate yourself from these fears surrounding your diction. Our goal should not be to speak like a native English speaker but to speak coherently. So take your accents in your stride, embrace them, and speak up confidently in meetings.
Forget accent, learn English
When I was doing Engineering, my roommate was from a small town in India and couldn’t speak English well. He requested my help to improve his grasp over the language, and in return promised to buy me a cup of coffee. So, every evening over a shared cup of coffee, we would hold long conversations in English. These talks helped him improve his English speaking skills and made him a more confident communicator. Today, he is one of the most recognised wealth managers in Central India, and speaks accented but good English and gets work done without a hitch, says Rakesh.
Remember, don’t worry about your diction, instead invest time in learning to speak the language by holding conversations with others.
Similarly, when I was in the US, I had a friend who came from a small town in Tamil Nadu. He couldn’t speak English properly. We used to get together and watch English films with subtitles, the same ones many times over. This is an excellent exercise as it helps you improve your vocabulary and absorb cultural nuances of English speaking countries. Avoid action movies as they don’t have many dialogues. Instead, opt for intense drama films and watch them repeatedly.
There’s no denying that English is the lingua franca of the world, and according to a report, by 2021, more than two billion people will be studying English. It has become the preferred language of global businesses. However, let’s get one thing straight. English is a language; a means to communicate. It is not communication itself. Communication is a mammoth subject that encourages you to celebrate your individuality, says Rakesh
Practice, practice, practice
To summarise, understand that you can have a strong accent and still be a good communicator. These two aspects are not mutually exclusive.
Instead, focus more on improving your English speaking skills by reading books by authors known for their exemplary writing style, watching English movies with subtitles on, and speaking to others in English.
Don’t hesitate or feel scared of being judged. Speak up if you have something to say. If you remain quiet, you will never get your ideas across, and your confidence will keep plummeting.
Your diction is only a small part of your communication. How you convey your message is what makes you a seasoned communicator.
Watch Rakesh’s video here.