By: Michael Record, PhD is the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program at Keiser University
I am often asked by people who use English as a second or third language how much their accent or even inaccuracies in their spoken language will hold them back in their career. That’s a hard question to answer, and my response is colored by living and working in one of the most multi-cultural areas in the country. I often recommend people listen to a meeting of the school board or the city commission in an area like Miami-Dade or Broward County. Many elected officials and top-ranking administrators speak with an accent and even display the occasional lapse in correct English usage. Their colleagues, their constituents, and the public overlook these lapses because the speakers make themselves understood and have valuable contributions to make to the public discourse. Especially in a multicultural area like South Florida, those contributions from a diverse group of individuals are sought out and valued. Non-native speakers in other parts of the country that are more homogenous might be judged more harshly. It all depends on the audience.
A Keiser graduate student recently asked me if I could recommend an accent reduction class. After some conversation about whether or not that was really necessary, the student shared with me that his employer was requesting it as a condition of continued employment. In that situation, I would direct people to their public school district. Most school districts have a division of Adult and Continuing Education, community school, or night school that offers English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes. Not all schools that offer ESOL cap it off with an accent reduction class, but many do. If yours doesn’t, look into Toastmasters International. While not designed specifically to reduce the accent of non-native speakers, Toastmasters does provide practice with small-group public speaking activities in a comfortable setting.
Regardless of the verbal fluency of an individual, his or her writing must be accurate. Even very educated native speakers of English make grammar errors in speaking from time to time because of the impromptu nature of verbal interaction. There is nothing impromptu about written messages. There is an assumption that the written word has been composed, not merely transcribed. Therefore, the expectation for correctness is greater. Like the rest of my comments in this column, this information is intended to encourage Keiser University Alumni Association members to make the most of their degree by putting their best foot forward, using good writing as a tool for career advancement.
Michael Record, PhD
Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program