Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Accents (and a bit of grammar)

Many months ago, when I was training a set of people, someone told me, "I have a bad accent, therefore I cannot train people in Oracle." I have heard quite a few variants of this. One is - My accent is not good, therefore, I have to take on a different accent - and this at a job interview. And so on and so forth. The one which takes the cake is this one- "His grammar is not good therefore, he cannot conduct 'Oracle' training". To this one my response is "My grammar is awesome, but Oracle is zero - you really don't want me taking your Oracle training do you?"

Somehow, we in India seem to prize foreign accents - mostly American or European, never Arabic or African (and there is an answer somewhere there). We do not like our accents - so much so that we even have a term for it - Mother Tongue Influence- we call it. I personally feel that this accent thing is overrated.

My favourite example is at a cricket commentary - the West Indians have their own accents - Michael Holding for example, the Brits and the South Africans as well as the Pakistani and the Lankans - each speaks their own accent of English. And if I may add - even the Indians. And none of them are trying to change their accent to sound like someone else.

At work, I have seen Chinese speakers at ease with their accents as much as Polish and German and Australian. Why, even the US itself has so many regional variations in accents and pronunciations. In fact, every language has accent and pronunciation variations (think of any language and I will show you variations) and that is what makes the language beautiful and grows the language. 

Perhaps (and I do not buy this fully), an accent was needed when the call centre industry was at its infancy and we wanted Indians to sound like Americans. This is a bit of an impersonation if you ask me and a smarter way would have been to continue with our own accents and do a great job at it. After all, if you do a great job does your accent matter? And if you have an accent, can you get by with lesser quality work?

And today, when the industry has made a name for itself, do we really need to focus on accents or focus on work? I would think work. And definitely, comprehension and articulation - but accents? Sorry, I dont buy that. Maybe a bit of polishing of grammar here and there, but no, one does not need to be a Wren and Martin specialist to get work done. It is all these idiosyncracies that make our language beautiful. Without that, no language would grow and evolve.

So, embrace your accents - talk a little slowly, explain a little slowly, ask if people are able to comprehend you - and do great work.

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