Reducing accent helps people land jobs

 A very real barrier to securing new employment can be a heavy accent.  A hiring manager is reluctant to bring someone onto the team who is difficult to understand and will generate miscommunication issues and errors on the job.  A job seeker can  improve his or her chances for employment at an appropriate skill level by getting more control of correct pronunciation and fluency in English.  Poor language skills can be perceived as lack of expertise in other things.

An example:  After only five private lessons with a skilled speech and language professional from Language Directions, LLC, D.S, a New Jersey computer programmer was able to move to a higher level position in a prestigious Manhattan company.  He had realized that it was not his skill set, but his accent that was the career obstacle.  Similarly, when we met him,  Z.L. was a skilled internet engineer with advanced degrees and an impressive resume, yet he was unable to advance past a screening telephone interview to be able to meet with a hiring manager.   Many foreign-born university professors face similar challenges when they look over the lectern and see the panicky faces of students who cannot understand the important points of the professor’s lecture and cannot adequately master the material.  The “light goes out” when comprehension is not there and could have possible tenure implications for the professor and course grade of the student.

Individual and group classes are  less of a frill and more of a necessity as a stepping stone to reemployment or career advancement.  A package of private pronunciation  lessons is a reasonable investment.  Even the heaviest accent can be reduced 50-60% at a cost lower than the cost of a 3 credit course in a public university.  

Most people who have had coaching  to improve their speech  wish they had done it sooner.  They have shared with us that improving their pronunciation has given them a competitive edge for a new job opportunity or promotion.   According to S.P., a native of India , “that’s why I took it. I wanted to succeed, to go forward and to get better jobs. And that is necessary. You want people to understand you.”

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Language and Cultural and Its Impact on a Company’s Success

We’ve all experienced difficulty at one time or another speaking a second language or understanding someone speaking English as a second language (ESL). Imagine that difficulty in the workplace and how it impacts a company’s operation. Misunderstandings can cause financial loss through errors or lost time.

Differences in language and culture impact business operations in many ways, on the plant floor, with customer service, on company morale or simply day-to-day operations.
We all use short hand or idioms in our speech.  We take them for granted however for individuals whose native tongue isn’t English they can be confusing.  Even between people whose primary language is English, misunderstandings or misinterpretations occur on a regular basis.  Questions such as “Do you understand” or “Call if you have questions” often don’t help because the person may believe they understand so don’t ask any questions.  Often the lack of questioning is a result of fear—looking less than competent, or because they genuinely believe they understand what is being asked of them.  In that case it is not until the task has been completed that the misunderstanding is realized.

Whether the ESL speaker is a company worker or customer it is important for companies to understand how to operate in a multi language or multicultural business environment.  As employers it is in our best interest to create a work environment that speaks to the challenges of a multi-language and cultural world.

NJMEP resource Sharlene Vichness shared a few of her experiences in how language had impacted her clients operations and the remedy used to improve the situation.  
  • One company was experiencing a low percentage of employees participating in its benefit plans.  Due to difficulty in understanding the open enrollment presentations, ESL workers weren’t enrolling. With the help of a bilingual facilitator, who answered questioned and assisted in completing forms, enrollment went from 20% to 70%.  

  • An upscale supermarket opened in a new location and hired employees that were not proficient in English.  When customers would approach them with questions about where to find product they would run away, creating a less than ideal situation for the shopper and long term, a disaster for the business.  Using the weekly flyer as the impetus for learning English, sessions were built around answering customers’ questions regarding material in the flyer. Employees developed confidence in their language skills and welcomed the opportunity to assist the customers.
Ms. Vichness pointed out that OSHA requires safety training be taught in a language that workers understand.  Image the challenge offered a non-English speaking/reading worker when confronted with “push” and “pull.”  These two words could easily be misinterpreted as they both begin with “pu” and are four letters.  Confusing these two actions could result in misunderstanding what action to take resulting in an incident or accident.

Cultural differences can also lend themselves to misunderstanding, creating difficulty in the work place.  Different cultures have different mores regarding personal space, eye contact and physical contact. Educating workers as to the differences promotes an understanding of behaviors or actions reducing the opportunity for misunderstandings, harassment claims or lost business.

If your workforce and/or customer base is multi-cultural it is well worth your while to think about how much it may be impacting your business. Would it be helpful to provide facilitators when introducing programs or training to your workforce?  Does the customer service department speak clearly and slowly so that your customers have an easy time doing business with your company? Is equipment clearly marked so in an emergency there are no questions as to what action to take?  Have customers been lost because of cultural misunderstanding?  If planning equipment upgrades will the loyal workers who have run the old machines for years get the training in a language that is best suited for them to succeed with the new challenge?

Language and culture impacts everything, both in and out of the workplace. Stay aware and stay current on issues that can impact the success of your company. If you need help with any of the areas discussed in this article please call NJMEP at 973-998-9801 or email us at To learn more about how NJMEP can assist your organization please visit

When do Babies learn Language?

Research shows babies begin to learn language sounds before they’re even born. In the womb, a mother’s voice is one of the most prominent sounds an unborn baby hears. By the time they’re born, newborns can not only tell the difference between their mother’s language and another language, but also show a capability of distinguishing between languages.

Language learning depends on the processing of sounds. All the world’s languages put together comprise about 800 or so sounds. Each language uses only about 40 language sounds, or “phonemes,” which distinguish one language from another.

At birth, the baby brain has an unusual gift: 
it can tell the difference between all 800 sounds. This means that at this stage infants can learn any language that they’re exposed to. Gradually babies figure out which sounds they are hearing the most.

Between six and 12 months, infants who grow up in monolingual households become more specialized in the subset of sounds in their native language. In other words, they become 
“native language specialists.” And, by their first birthdays, monolingual infants begin to lose their ability to hear the differences between foreign language sounds.
Studying baby brains

What about those babies who hear two languages from birth? Can a baby brain specialize in two languages? If so, how is this process different then specializing in a single language?

Knowing how the baby brain learns one versus two languages is important for understanding the developmental milestones in learning to speak. For example, parents of bilingual children often wonder what is and isn’t typical or expected, or how their child will differ from those children who are learning a single language.

My collaborators and I recently studied the brain processing of language sounds in 11-month-old babies from monolingual (English only) and bilingual (Spanish-English) homes. We used a completely noninvasive technology called 
magnetoencephalography (MEG), which precisely pinpointed the timing and the location of activity in the brain as the babies listened to Spanish and English syllables.
We found some key differences between infants raised in monolingual versus bilingual homes.
At 11 months of age, just before most babies begin to say their first words, the brain recordings revealed that:
  • Babies from monolingual English households are specialized to process the sounds of English, and not the sounds of Spanish, an unfamiliar language
  • Babies from bilingual Spanish-English households are specialized to process the sounds of both languages, Spanish and English.
Our findings show that babies’ brains become tuned to whatever language or languages they hear from their caregivers. A monolingual brain becomes tuned to the sounds of one language, and a bilingual brain becomes tuned to the sounds of two languages. By 11 months of age, the activity in the baby brain reflects the language or languages that they have been exposed to.
Is it OK to learn two languages?

This has important implications. Parents of monolingual and bilingual children alike are eager for their little ones to utter the first words. It’s an exciting time to learn more about what the baby is thinking. However, a common concern, especially for bilingual parents, is that their child is not learning fast enough.

We found that the bilingual babies showed an equally strong brain response to English sounds as the monolingual babies. This suggests that bilingual babies were learning English at the same rate as the monolingual babies.

Parents of bilingual children also worry that their children will not know as many words as children who are raised with one language.
To some extent, this concern is valid. Bilingual infants split their time between two languages, and thus, on average, hear fewer words in each. However, studies consistently show that bilingual children do not lag behind when both languages are considered.

Vocabulary sizes of bilingual children, when combined across both languages, have been 
found to be equal to or greater than those of monolingual children.Another common concern is that bilingualism causes confusion. Part of this concern arises due to “code switching,” a speaking behavior in which bilinguals combine both languages.

For example, my four-year-old son, who speaks English, Spanish, and Slovene, goes as far as using the Slovene endings on Spanish and English words. Research shows bilingual children code-switch because 
bilingual adults around them do too. Code-switching in bilingual adults and children is rule-governed, not haphazard.

Unlike monolingual children, bilingual children have another language from which they 
can easily borrow if they can’t quickly retrieve the appropriate word in one language. Even two-year-olds modulate their language to match the language used by their interlocutor.
Researchers have shown code switching to be part of a bilingual child’s normal language development. And it could even be the beginning of what gives them the extra cognitive prowess known as the “bilingual advantage.”

Bilingual kids are at an advantage

The good news is young children all around the world can and do acquire two languages simultaneously. In fact, in many parts of the world, being bilingual is the norm rather than an exception.
It is now understood that the constant need to shift attention between languages leads to several cognitive advantages. Research has found that bilingual adults and children show an improved executive functioning of the brain – that is, they are able to shift attention, switch between tasks and solve problems more easily.

Bilinguals have also been found to have 
increased metalinguistic skills (the ability to think about language per se, and understand how it works). There is evidence that being bilingual makes the learning of a third language easier. Further, the accumulating effect of dual language experience is thought to translate into protective effects against cognitive decline with aging and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, if you want your child to know more than one language, it’s best to start at an early age, before she even starts speaking her first language. It won’t confuse your child, and it could even give her a boost in other forms of cognition.

6 Strategies to be Memorable at a Networking Event

  1. Be Easy to Listen To

Sound expert Julian Treasure says conversation killers include gossip, judgment, negativity, complaining, exaggeration, accusations, and being a “blame-thrower.” These types of communication are simply hard to listen to, he says. According to Treasure, the four powerful cornerstones of good conversation spell HAIL: honesty (being clear and straight), authenticity (being yourself), integrity (actually doing what you say you will), and love (wishing people well).

How do you do this in a quick networking conversation? You can be honest and authentic by asking genuine questions when a topic comes up that you know nothing about—instead of nodding along and pretending like you get it. When saying goodbye at the end of the event, think of something specific from your conversation that you can reference, then wish the person well. It’s as easy as that.

  1. Create Conversational Chemistry

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, positive conversations can induce the production of oxytocin. And oxytocin elevates our ability to collaborate and trust others. Conversations that show concern for others, are based in truth, and share a vision of mutual success are among those that result in this kind of good chemistry.

Instead of spending time trying to convince someone to see your side of an issue (a.k.a., trying to be controversial and groundbreaking), share a positive thought that’s mutually beneficial and useful to the person you’re talking to. You can prepare this positive thought ahead of time by looking up current, relevant industry news that would be interesting to the people you’re meeting.

  1. Encourage Self-Disclosure

It’s common sense that we like to talk about ourselves, but there’s actually a chemical reaction associated with self-disclosure that we find inherently rewarding. According to a study published in the Proceedings From the National Academy of Sciences, self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in dopamine centers of the brain, the same regions that respond to rewards like food and money.

So, create an environment that invites other people to tell you about themselves. A great approach is to come in with some great conversation starters to aid in the effort to draw people out. For example, instead of talking to someone about how his or her week is going, you can get specific and ask, “What was the highlight of your week?” The former usually leads to a short answer (“it’s going”); the latter is a chance for the other person to really open up.

  1. Ask for Stories, Not Answers

Sharing stories creates a connection and stimulates an emotional memory that helps usgive meaning to our experiences and interactions. Eliciting stories from people you’re just meeting can also help you get a lot more information, as well as a better understanding of where they are coming from, both literally and metaphorically.

Refrain from asking “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” Instead ask: “What are you working on these days?” or “What was the town like where you grew up?”

  1. Skip the Small Talk

Research suggests that talking about more substantive issues can actually make us happier than engaging in traditional small talk. Slipping some details into small talk can elevate the conversation to a greater level of engagement.

So, if someone asks where you’re from, add a bit of trivia about your hometown. Or if someone asks what you do, talk briefly about what drew you to the profession. Either answer should lead to the person inquiring more about what you said, which gets you away from chit-chat and closer to having a memorable exchange.

  1. Use Your Instrument to its Best Capacity

Having meaningful conversations doesn’t just have to do with what you say, but also how you say it. You’ll come off as much more interested (and interesting) if you vary your tone so you don’t sound monotone or disengaged. Try speaking slower and quieter, which can actually draw people in. Also, don’t be scared to embrace silence; it’s better than filling the space with “ahs” and “ums.”

Elevate your conversation above the distractions and small talk at your next networking or social event to create connections that really matter.