How Accent Modification can improve your customer service

Most interactions in the workplace and classroom occur in English. Clear, intelligible speech is vital to establish credibility, professionalism and understanding.

English has become the international language of business. An individual whose first language is not English may find that progress in their studies or their career is severely compromised because they cannot express themselves in English well enough to be understood clearly or at all. For example, not being able to enunciate English clearly and communicate well at a job interview can be a severe set back to the start of a promising career.

For organizations, the consequences of poor communication as a result of their front line staff and call centre agents not speaking English intelligibly are negative and far reaching.

Consequences

  • Frustrated listeners and speakers
  • Increased misunderstandings and miscommunication
  • Demotivated staff
  • Lack of productivity
  • Negative public perception of the institution or organisation
  • Poor projection of company image and damage to the brands being represented

Pronunciation

The pronunciation of English by first language speakers of, for example, isiZulu is affected by two factors:

  1. English spelling
  2. As children we learn to make the sounds (phonemes) of our mother tongue

  1. English Spelling

The spelling of English words is misleading and does not assist with the correct pronunciation of these words, for example
through       enough         bough           though       bought
5 different vowel sounds exist in these words!

  1. The Phonemes of English

There are 23 vowel sounds in English. Seven of the English vowel sounds are always short. The rest including all the dipthongs are long.

Although African languages are wonderfully expressive they have far fewer vowel sounds than English. For example isiZulu has around 7 vowel sounds. Consequently when a person with isiZulu as their mother tongue speaks English they have to find replacements for 16 English vowel sounds that they don’t know how to pronounce.

For example, the vowel sounds in ‘bird’  and ‘mat’ do not exist in isiZulu. These vowel sounds have tongue positions that isiZulu does not have. Therefore an isiZulu speaker when learning to speak English substitutes these sounds with ones from their mother tongue. So ‘bird’ becomes ‘bed’ and ‘mat’ becomes ‘met’.

The vowel sounds can differ in two ways:

1.  Where the sound itself is different (substitutions)
eg.    The ‘er’ sound is produced as ‘e’ so ‘bird’ is pronounced ‘bed’
         The ‘a’ sound is produced as ‘e’ so ‘had’ is pronounced as ‘head’

2.  Where the vowel length differs
eg. The long vowel sound in ‘bath’ is shortened to ‘buth’
      The short vowel sound in ‘hit’ is lengthened to ‘heet’ 

The purpose of the Accent Labs Speech & Voice E-learning Programme is to ensure that the ‘new’ accent is used by gaining a thorough knowledge of how to produce each sound, as opposed to merely being imitated.

The overall goal of the programme is to help the learner achieve the desired manner of English pronunciation without jeopardizing the integrity of that individual’s first or primary accent.

© accentlabs 2018

BPESA