In my experience as an online English teacher and former host mom for exchange students, I have found that a person’s accent is not a great hindrance to communication. Native English speakers realize they must adjust their focus in order to understand a non-native speaker. Do not worry whether a native English speaker will be offended by an accent; we are as forgiving of you as you are with us.
It is important to be understood and to develop relationships, because all people desire to connect with one another. All humans desire to build meaningful working relationships, and in this day and age, one of the most commonly-studied languages is English.
For some, this may be intimidating at first. Learning a new language is not an easy task, but it totally depends upon how you face the challenge. Being self-conscious and worrying about what the listener is thinking can be a roadblock to learning English. The key is to relax and focus on communication.
I don’t think there are many people in the world that have not found some way to “get their point across” to other people. There are a million ways to have a discussion. Accents seem to be at the forefront of most language learners’ minds when it comes to being understood, but the lack of practice becomes the real roadblock to learning a new language.
Remember: practice, practice, practice! The more a person practices, the better they will be able to pronounce unfamiliar words, then the accent a person has only enhances the language instead of being a hindrance.
I find that my students try to speak at the same pace as I do and, with the accent, it is difficult to understand some of the things they are trying to say. It is the same for understanding native English speakers: if I talk too quickly, then my students do not understand me because of my accent!
The fear of being misunderstood is very common among all peoples of the world. I know that when I speak a language other than English, I try very hard to adopt the same sounds of the native language that I am speaking. This takes much work and concentration while in the learning process.
The challenge for the native listener is to listen harder and with more focus to the speaker in order to understand. Most native English speakers realize that there will be grammatical errors made, so it keeps them on their toes, and paying closer attention to what the non-native speaker is trying to communicate. A lot of English speakers find it to be a healthy challenge!
It takes a lot of courage to attempt a conversation with someone not using your own language. I have been very impressed with the level of English that most of my students display. I applaud their attempts as they struggle to communicate with me, and I am not at all offended by an accent.
In conclusion, accents are unique to everyone whether they are a native speaker or not. The key is practice, and more practice. italki is an excellent site for beginning to communicate and develop connections with people of different cultures. So, relax, have fun, and don’t worry about what others are thinking of your accent...they want to get to know you, and your accent is part of who you are!
Image by Jirka Matousek (CC BY 2.0)