5 Tips on Overcoming the Difficulties of Understanding a Strong Accent

AccentsI remember being new in a country where everyone else spoke in a language I was unfamiliar with. English was a foreign language to them just as it was to me. However, it was the only mode of communication that allowed me to exchange information– despite the variations in accents. And at times, it would take a full five minutes to exchange a simple conversation!

My experience could be comparable to yours if you have also had to deal with foreign accents either because you are living abroad, working abroad, or just working in a domestic organisation that has a very diverse culture. Diversity seems to be increasing by the day due to globalisation and reduced international barriers.

Whatever the reasons, you need to overcome the difficulties of a strong accent to be able to effectively communicate with other colleagues, friends, or customers.

  1. Communicate the Difficulty:Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t understand anything the other person is saying. That won’t do you any good, as they will assume that you understood – even when you didn’t. That won’t help either of you. Chances are that they already know they are speaking with a strong accent that is foreign to you. So, there’s no harm in telling them that you are having a little difficulty in understanding them.The best way to do this is by learning a key phrase that politely says, “I am sorry, but I am having a little difficulty understanding you. Can you please speak a bit more slowly?” Now, you’re not being rude with that statement. You are being apologetic, warm, and welcoming. You are letting him know that you want to help and also require their help.
  2. Don’t be Rude:Don’t say things like, “What?!” “Huh?!” or “Hey, I can’t understand you”. Regardless of what you may think, they can sound rude. The last thing you want to do is offend the speaker and make the situation worse. Telling the speaker that you “can’t understand” them is being a little inconsiderate. Why? Because it’s not their fault!Maybe they will respond by trying to repeat it again for you. If you still can’t understand their accent, you can ask somneone else for help but maybe wait until the first person has left.
  3. Learn Some Key Phrases: This is probably one of the most important ones! If the foreign accent is coming from a specific group of people with a specific language, instead of asking to speak a language that YOU know, you might want to learn a few key phrases of the language that THEY can understand. In my case, I was dealing with living in a foreign country where everyone spoke Arabic. I found that the easiest way to allow myself to communicate with them is by adjusting my own mode of communication. There were many who didn’t speak English, and even if they did, I had trouble understanding them. Nevertheless, I adjusted by learning a few key phrases that were commonly used. Key phrases such as, “One moment, please” ,“How much does this cost?” “Can you help me find….” are useful in a many routine situations.
  4. Find a Friend: If you are in a foreign environment, a friend who understands both your own language and the local language can be a big help. This could be a colleague, roommate or even a neighbour.
  5. Write it down: When dealing with people on the phone, it can be easy to get lost and confused in the conversation if they have strong accent. The best way to deal with this is, is by writing down whatever you can and can’t understand to keep you focussed on the speaker and ensure that you can try and make sense of the conversation. You could even ask someone to interpret a word that you didn’t understand at first, but had written down.

Learning some local language can always help.  Try Rosetta Stone’s free Demo to help you on your way!



Jenifer Bradshaw is a developer and a writer. She assists students in choosing the right career path. She also provides assignment help in UK to students facing problems with their coding assignment. Find her on Facebook.

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