Twenty-five years ago, I began training adults who were born in other countries and wanted to learn how to communicate effectively in English. In those days, there was a stigma if you spoke English with an accent. My clients told me they were at a disadvantage in the U.S. and were not recognized for the knowledge and skills they possessed. People around them even thought they weren’t as smart as people who spoke without an accent.
Things have changed. Whereas in the past having an accent was a disadvantage, these days an accent may actually help you get the job you want. In today’s marketplace, your ability to communicate in more than one language can make you stand out in a positive way.
And there’s more good news, too. The New York Times reviewed an article by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee of Science Magazine stating that being bilingual actually makes you smarter. It has the profound effect on your brain of improving cognitive skills that are more fundamental than language. It seems that bilingualism improves the brain’s executive functioning. This is the governing system we use for planning, organizing, solving problems, and performing various other mental functions such as maintaining focus, switching attention when needed, sequencing thoughts, and memory. Please feel free to use this research in your interviews!
The key difference between monolinguals and bilinguals is an enhanced ability to monitor the environment and keep track of what’s around them. This ability helps you retain information such as driving directions and choose whether your first or second language. Research shows that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals when faced with these challenges and they do so with less brain activity, suggesting that they’re using their brains more efficiently
There’s an important difference though, between having an accent and being understood. Lack of success is not about the accent itself, but about when the accent brings with it a lack of clarity.
Here’s a quick test to know whether your speech lacks clarity, is if you feel you get too many responses like, “huh?”, or, “can you please repeat that?, or just blank stares on your listeners’ faces. If that’s the case, you don’t have to eliminate your accent – in fact you shouldn’t, because it’s part of who you are – but you must improve your clarity.
In a global America, accents are everywhere. Nowadays, organizations intentionally hire non-native Americans to help them interact more effectively with non-native clients, customers and colleagues. This helps them present a more inclusive image to the world and expands their own organizational culture. If you want to advance your career, the most crucial factor these days is to speak clearly and confidently, with or without an accent.
The power of communication is undisputed. And we now know that qualified people who speak more than one language can have an advantage in acquiring better jobs and doing those jobs masterfully. The key to powerful communication is the ability to speak clearly, confidently and effectively so that you can express your knowledge and ideas precisely and more deeply connect with others.