Foreign Accents In the Workplace

Business success today requires a diverse body of talent it implement new ideas, views, and perspectives. In the past white males made up more than 60% of the work force, but that is changing significantly causing an alteration of the image of the “typical American worker”. If trends continue, by 2050, the US population is expected to increase by 50% and people of color will make up nearly half of the population. One quarter of Americans will be of Latino/Latina descent and almost one in ten will be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, not to mention more women and people with disabilities in the job ranks as well.

Why don’t you Speak English!!!??

Clear Communication is crucial. Some American employees have a hostile attitude and a severe lack of patience when it comes to conversing with others with a heavy accent. Why can’t they just learn to speak English? Truth be told, many have gone somewhere and learned English and data supports that often times the non-native speaker scores higher on the standard grammar exam than the native English speaker. Learning is not the problem. Speaking is.

    The second language learner, including Americans learning a foreign language, speaks the new language in the same manner the native language is spoken. Thus the accent. The rhythm, intonation, and projection of the native language carries over to the second language and forms certain distortions in pronunciation. It is simply insensitive to expect otherwise. If simply hearing and mimicking or speaking were the only requirement for learning a second language, there would be no problems anywhere in the world.
    Language mastery is considered to be a sign of intelligence by any dominate culture and second language learners have been treated as simply stupid or hard of hearing because they could not  communicate clearly. This is a stereotype. Not to mention that Americans have accents as well.
    The responsibility is on both the non-native English speaker and on the native speaker of English.  Perhaps some well placed sensitivity and listening workshops may become a required part of all American employee training in the future. The future American worker  (in the myriad forms they will appear as ) is going to have to accept, assimilate, and re-learn to communicate. Let’s just accept this as part of living on a planet that is hot, flat, and crowded. Let’s accentuate the positive!

The views expressed are strictly those of Michael Carter and do not reflect the views and opinions of Mission Health Systems.

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