Fixing the “Communication Equation”

Clear speech = understanding

“I didn’t understand a word he said.”

“I had to replay her voicemail message four times to get her extension, department and name in

order to return the call.”

“He’s brilliant and would be a great hire, but my team won’t be able to communicate with him.”

“I don’t know why I can’t understand people at work. I’ve been learning English since I was 5

years old!”

“I hate having to repeat everything I say. Why can’t they understand me?”

Do any of these concerns resonate with you? Do you get impatient when you speak with an accented person? Is
your accent holding you back? It’s frustrating for both sides of the communication equation – speaker and listener – when understanding breaks down. Stereotypes and pre-judgments can be formed when what comes out of your mouth does not reflect the sophistication and knowledge that is in the brain of the speaker. In order for a transmission of information to be successful, the listener must clearly receive, decode, and understand what the speaker is saying. When either or both sides of the equation break down, productive communication suffers immensely, often to the embarrassment of highly successful people.

What makes these things happen? A wide variety of possibilities. Many people do not learn English from someone whose first language is English. They may have learned “accented” English, unaware that there is a difference between how they learned to pronounce words and how they are pronounced correctly. Something as simple as stressing the wrong part of a word or not pronouncing the ends of words can create large pockets of miscommunication between speaker and listener. Additionally, native speakers of American English tend to use many idioms and expressions that refer to American history, sports, or other subjects that are not in the active knowledge of a foreign-born person. For example, “He made a home run with his presentation,” might not be necessarily understood. The equation is unbalanced in favor of the speaker to the disadvantage of the listener. See that polite smile? It’s an indication that the listener is being polite, doesn’t want to indicate non-understanding, and is frantically trying to figure out what you mean. Sound familiar?

The fact is that English is a complicated and difficult language to learn. There are few rules and many exceptions, and pronunciations that make no logical sense when words that look alike can mean different things when pronounced in different ways. Examples: “He refused the refuse” or “It’s time to produce the produce.” There is an entire list of sentences like this that a native US speaker will say easily and without hesitation, but can totally confound a foreign-born English speaker.

A person who has studied English as a Second Language (ESL) for many years and has mastered all official levels of ESL often remains at a lower level of fluency and comfort than a native speaker, thus creating a “gap” of perception and clarity of communication. It is this “gap” that Language Directions can reduce or eliminate with our customized course MAPS (More Americanized Pronunciation and Speaking). The person described above does NOT need another ESL course; he or she can speak, read and write English.

What that person needs is “pronunciation polishing,” help with any remaining grammar issues, assistance with voice quality, and all the other factors which affect his comfort and clarity when speaking American English. Many companies are committing to aggressive diversity hiring initiatives, only to leave many foreign-born employees unsupported with their communication skills. The good news is that communication skills of all types are trainable. A MAPS program for a group or an individual can be transformative to the consistent and overall success of the Communication Equation in the workplace.