to be a non-native speaker when trying to serve American clients…
|Would you pay $20 for this meal?||How about this one?|
You don’t need to answer, it is too obvious. A simple act of not putting spaghetti on a plate (SLOPPY DELIVERY) can reduce its value almost entirely – never mind that the nutritional content is the SAME! Appearances and perceptions of HOW you say matter far more before people get to the essence of what you can do. Your delivery could filter out the message.
Back to my story, the summer of 1999 in New York was head-spinning: I just graduated from Harvard, my internship with Goldman Sachs was rolling really well, the DOT.COM bubble was roaring, and the air was filled with optimism. Ricky Martin’s singing “living la Vida loca” totally matched the spirit of the time and my overconfidence in my abilities was comparable to the astronomic valuations of technology stocks…. A month later I resumed working for my favorite consulting company in their Boston office. Having already worked for them in Europe for 2 years before, I thought it would be a layup (weekly ski trips to Vermont anyone?). Yet out of the blue, I was told to take an Accent Reduction class. I was resentful – hey, I am great – don’t you see that? I have 3 graduate degrees, including one from Harvard! I speak 5+ languages (I thought) – how many do you speak? Can’t you see the difference between the form over substance? C’mon guys, you can’t be serious!
I reluctantly took this Accent Reduction class. It was frustrating and seemed like a waste of time, obviously my motivation was low (2 cups of coffee to stay awake). I studied English since the early childhood with a private tutor and then attended numerous focused groups in high school and college and we were taught mostly in English during my Graduate studies which was my second masters in Europe. But it really is one thing studying English using old British textbooks and not having seen a native speaker until much later. Over the years the voice of resistance started to fade away as I was hearing similar eye-opening feedback from Americans. The best example came from a Dutch friend who was fully Americanized and told me about his experience of reducing his Accent by taking the dedicated class and listening to the tapes in his car while driving. And don’t forget that the Dutch language of all modern languages is the one most closely related to English! At the end it was so painful, so I started investing more of my time into this. I purchased books, tapes, and had to spend years polishing my accent and elocution in English. I still keep doing this even now: I have drills playing in my car or I recite speakers from business videos. Now it seems idiotic to me that I expected that Americans would look over my “charming” Russian accent? It doesn’t help that Slavic accent is the accent of the villains from Hollywood movies (no judgements here, seriously). Obviously, all normal people know the difference, but when you are trying to connect with people, it the subconscious mind that always gets in the way. Appearances and perceptions of HOW you say matter far more before people get to the essence of what you can do. Your delivery could filter out the message.
Even on Wall Street, where your performance is easily quantifiable, really good communication skills were critical anywhere above the entry level. The reality of life is that people connect emotionally and only after that they can open to a good intellectual exchange (if ever). And the higher you go up the ladder, the more critical it becomes to have more polished skills – empathy, emotional connection and, yes, speaking their language as closely as possible, including minimizing your accent. Why do you think that most of the very top jobs in global companies still disproportionately belong to native speakers of English (Americans, Brits, Canadians and Australians)? Google study clearly indicates that. Yes, the winds are changing but human perceptions are still very much intact.
Fast forward to today, I envisioned the program summarizing my observations of how expats in the US can adjust culturally faster. We hired great ESL instructors, linguists and data scientists to optimize the accent reduction process for professional to whom English is a not their mother tongue and who want and need to excel. Motivations for self improvement is essential. We crafted this program to help other professionals stepping up to the global competitive game to avoid this embarrassment and extended torture of inefficient learning. Don’t repeat my mistake of avoiding it or doing it half-way (“now I am busy but the next year – definitely”). Otherwise, you are holding back your career, your self-esteem, your income.
This video is a quick summary of our approach:
US markets are huge but enormously competitive – you have to fight for your place under the Sun. You would need to get burnt a few times to fully appreciate the need to close all possible gaps, including communication, including the Accent, and so much more. Remember Al Pacino’s speech from the movie Any Given Sunday:
So let’s play this game of inches. Will appreciate your comments and thoughts.