{ "media_type": "text", "post_content": "Disclaimer: Not a racist post so please don't go that route. Do you ever have trouble understanding co-workers who have accents? I have a couple of colleagues with thick Southeast Asian accents and I find myself getting really irritated in having to ask to them repeat themselves. Would I be wrong to suggest an elocution course or something to help them enunciate their vocab better?", "post_id": "619d9fd7f448c10039470803", "reply_count": 90, "vote_count": 5, "bowl_id": "55375ce690f5eebe1d2a0f88", "bowl_name": "Tech", "feed_type": "crowd" }

Disclaimer: Not a racist post so please don't go that route. Do you ever have trouble understanding co-workers who have accents? I have a couple of colleagues with thick Southeast Asian accents and I find myself getting really irritated in having to ask to them repeat themselves. Would I be wrong to suggest an elocution course or something to help them enunciate their vocab better?

likehelpful
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I feel you because I'm also non native English speaker and still have hard time understanding to some of my colleagues due to their accent. First advice is to be patient for yourself. (Not for them) why I say this is because the frustration is probably towards the fact you have to ask them to repeat and you feel bad. I think it's just us thinking this way, so for the sake of your work, you could keep asking to repeat until you get it. If lucky, they might feel the need to improve it. Second thing we could do is to honestly say that "sorry I'm having a difficult time to hear you. Would you write down what you said?" It could sounds rude, but it could work depending on how you deliver it. You could also blame those online calls time to time...😅 Lastly, I see some of your comments saying that it started to become issues for your work. By hearing this, I thought maybe the issue may be somewhere else than the accent. Sorry if I'm giving an wrong assumption, but it could also be the communication style and the terminology of this person. I kinda feel that there might be "lost in translation" situation and even if you heard them in the end, there might be some gap between the semantics. It might help to pay attention to how they use certain words or ask them what do they mean by certain things they said. Again, sorry if I'm giving the wrong assumption. This is my perspective, but in the end you still need to perform well, so if you think this is getting worse and you don't know what to do, it might be a good idea to consult HR. Because if a person is hired because they're good fit for the role, they are also responsible to be able to perform well = this shouldn't bring any harm in the delivery of your work. But if communication is becoming an abstacle for you to deliver your work, you should consider consulting to your HR. But for sure with the sensible manner, which I'm sure you would do 😊 It's depending on the person, but as a non native, if someone is having hard time understanding me because my accent, I'd like to know honestly. I hate being a burden on someone else's work. I'd like to do what I could do myself by taking classes. In the end, the fastest way is to get to know the person on the personal level and see how their view on the language in general. How they learnt it, classes they took before etc... you might as well be able to share how you feel about it too.

likesmarthelpful

Cloudfactory 1 and the Author, I agree with you about consulting HR. I also didn't mean in my answer that you talk to them straight about firing the person. I should have specified it! Because I wouldn't do that. I meant to seek any solutions that could help the person or the situation with HR without considering firing the person of course!

English is not my first language and I grew up around parents and people with accents. Having been born in the US, English is my strongest language. I speak flawless English with a California accent and I am a strong writer. However, as I grew older, I find myself having a bit more difficulty understanding others speaking English with accents as well, whether it is a Southern accent, Irish accent, UK accent, Eastern European accents, various Asian accents as well. Working in tech, I found that I have to deal with all sorts of accents. What helps me is finding ways to adjust to the sound beyond work-related terminology. For example, one tactic is to begin or end the meeting with pleasantries (how is your day, how are your children, plans for the weekend, etc.) with the sole goal of adjusting your ear to the sound and tone. Conversations are not exactly a symphony (or instrumentals), but you can use some techniques of listening to music to train your ear. Listening, in general, is notoriously difficult for everyone--whether in conversation or presentations--because everyone speaks at a different cadence, sound, dialect, etc. Further, some people cannot articulate, requiring more work on the listener's end by asking questions to better home in on what is being said. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. As a matter of fact, asking questions is an important part of active listening. I am a lifelong learner so a book that personally helped me is How to Speak, How to Listen by Adler: https://www.amazon.com/How-Speak-Listen-Mortimer-Adler/dp/0684846470. I also read his book on How to Read even after attending a top undergrad institution, 2 Master's degrees, and a certificate, learning several languages, and having read and written numerous papers, taught classes, and made many many presentations in my professional life. Even after all that, I still feel as though I need to adjust to accents in various roles I've held and people I've worked with, and take each case one at a time.

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Imagine how they feel asked by people to repeat themselves so much. It’s hard for both, just be patient and place close attention and remember they learned English. That’s super impressive and one of the hardest languages to learn and are using it to make a better life. How awesome is that

likeupliftingsmarthelpful

I don't know what experience you have that makes you think English is particularly easy to learn. That depends on what language and culture you are coming from.

Whenever you have to claim it’s not racist…

likesmarthelpfulfunny

D why don’t you learn their native language for a change and address the accent while you’re at it…

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I feel it’s important to recognise the history of these countries and while english is a globally adopted language in the tech world, it is not the first language for a majority of the world. Acknowledge the differences, and instead of suggesting what the person should do (which might reduce their confidence), you could try putting in effort to make them feel understood. That way, you are not imposing a colonialist mindset and acknowledge people for their strengths.

likesmart

I'm a middle eastern, some accents are hard for me to understand, my accent are hard for some people. I think people should not tell each other to follow some accent. However, I'm sad people are that vulnerable that even simple valid questions are considered racist or colonialist, I think preventing people from asking valid question is discrimination in itself. We don't have much racism where I came from, and I think labeling people like this for asking a valid question, is another form of cultural racism.

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As a non-English speaker, it has been so much easier to understand people with foreign accents than my other peers. However, you can’t expect everyone to take elocution classes whenever you can’t understand them. Wait till you meet someone from the deep sound 🤣. If they got hired is because they can do the job and they can be understood. I bet the more you work with him/her, the more used you will get to his way of speaking.

likeupliftingsmarthelpful

I'm a non-English speaker as well and I've been working with them for two years. I really have tried everything, and my work is starting to suffer because of miscommunication

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I applaud you for recognizing that there’s a problem and are trying to find a way to fix it. It would be helpful to know what you have tried and why you think they didn’t work. You being irritated with their accent may be causing listening comprehension anxiety. Suggesting that they take a class to improve their pronunciation may be not be received positively. In addition to AD1’s suggestion , I add the following as you seem to be open to improving the situation: [1.] Practice mindfulness listening. [2.] Before engaging in conversation with said colleague, be mentally present. Drop your irritation and instead come with the intent to effectively listen and communicate. It’s probably not the case that you don’t understand everything. Ask them to repeat if needed, take handwritten notes. Somehow handwriting notes cause you to be a better listener. [3.] Enroll in effective listening and communication training. [4.] Learn a foreign language. You should not have a problem picking up a new language. [5.] Close your eyes so that you focus on the conversation. [6.] Read this study: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1204592.pdf

likehelpful

This! This is what I was looking for! Thank you for your help! I'll add this to my arsenal for sure.

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I hate that we have to give a not racist disclaimer when stating simple facts these days

likehelpful

What does accent have to do with race? The whitest people in Russia do not speak Englush with an American accent. Too much ignorance

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I just tell them I’m hard of hearing and to be patient with me and repeat

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This is a good strategy

At the risk of oversimplifying the situation: Are there ways in which you can reduce the dependency on verbal communication? Say, for example, facilitating more of your collaborative work with writing (emails, shared docs, Slack, etc.)

likesmart

AD1 also mentioned this!

Sometimes what I do is rephrase what I think they’ve said and ask if that is what they meant, and that works pretty well. They’ll correct you if you’ve heard wrong.

likehelpful

Shoot I struggle to understand English from the UK or even in Southern part of USA. It is what it is. Have patience and take time to learn folks. Overtime you'll pickup things in accents that will help you understand what's being said.

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I understand what you mean. There are certain individuals with whom I work who are hard to understand, especially over the phone or Zoom. One thought, have your hearing checked. I found out that I had some hearing loss, especially when it came to understanding speech. I started using some technology for those with hearing loss and it helped me better understand when people are speaking, especially those with thick accents.

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Nearly deaf in one ear. Can confirm accents of any kind make understanding very hard.

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Do not do that! The only way you can pull it off is if you’re friendly with them and can causally bring it up outside of work. But from your post, I’m guessing you’re closer to sticking their hands in a meat grinder than being friend with them.

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It’s brash to suggest that to them. Have patience and be polite and kind

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If it’s been years by now you should understand their accent

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If you are having a hard time understanding them, they are probably also having a hard time understanding you. Speak clearly and simply yourself. It will encourage others to do the same. Also, what I found to work best, instead of asking people to repeat themselves, is to paraphrase what I think I heard. Take notes on a shared screen of the conversation. You can also take notes in the chat window of the meeting app. Even when I'm working with people from the same country as me, it helps bring clarity and creates better collaboration.

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Here's an idea: in the privacy of your own home when no one can hear you, practice faking their accent. Try to get really good at it. It will help tremendously with your own comprehension. For a non-actor/impressionist, I am pretty good at parroting accents (not that I go around doing it because that would be hella racist) and I regularly have to "translate" (aka just repeat) ESL communication for friends, family, and coworkers because my ability to imitate makes it easier to comprehend. Rather than suggesting THEY take elocution classes, which is rude, educate yourself on how to better understand THEIR English pronunciation. It's not that hard. They learned a whole second language; you're just learning your own language with an accent.

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Getting irritated often only exacerbates the problem - you can get in the mindset that you can never understand them and they bother you and it can make you less capable of listening because you’re thinking about what a pain it is. Agree with others, try to be patient and mindful. Also, try to pick your battles. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get hearing people correct others unnecessarily (i.e. grammar/syntax is off, but the sentence is completely understandable). I have some brilliant Asian colleagues I see get flustered or hesitate to speak because they are worried about their English when their imperfectly constructed comments are 1000x more value added than someone who keeps correcting their English. Not saying this is what OP is doing, but I see this happen a lot with people that get easily irritated with others’ English and it’s just counter-productive

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I had a manager that I could understand only 20% of what he was talking. We were working on a high visibility project and he was the person giving me all the requirements and explaining the technical design. Instead of asking him to repeat himself a million times, I just asked him if I could record our meetings. During the meetings I would take notes on what I could understand, I paid attention on what he wrote on the board, and later in the day I would listen to the recordings. Eventually I started to train my brain to understand his accent. We were the best work partners after that! It takes some effort but it totally worth it.

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Get your intent but not sure if you can start with “not trying to be racist” — but aside from that, have you asked them to recap certain things written out over email or slack?

smart

No, that's actually a very good suggestion!

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English is my first language but what I find helps me is I actually try to converse with the person as a friend and ask them to teach me some basic words from their language. It helps me understand them as individuals and gives me more perspective on the way the words may be pronounced in English from the person's first language. That way I don't have to risk making them feel down about how they speak and I'm building not only empathy in myself, but a connection to that person and I'm not really sure why...but when you get to know a person individually it's easier to understand their accent. Win win.

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