Some Pointers for Non-Native Speakers

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the employers who took part in their “Job Outlook 2011 survey” listed verbal communication skills at the top of their list of the skills that they look for in new college graduates who seek to join their organizations.  Effective communication is the skill that employers in general typically mention most when asked what they are looking for in employees at any stage of their careers. Promotions are most likely to occur for those who communicate well.

For non-native speakers whose accents prevent them from being effective communicators, participation in an accent modification program can be the remedy. Assistance with pronunciations, syllable and word stress, phrasing, intonation, word usage, expressions, grammar, and word order may be provided. 

Some pointers for non-native speakers of English will follow. In American English, the schwa sound is quite common. 
This vowel occurs in unstressed syllables, and is a reduced form of other vowels. A schwa sounds like “uh,” and is represented by the symbol “ə” in the International Phonetic Alphabet. According to linguist Kevin Russell “…failing to reduce unstressed vowels is one of the major contributors to an accent in non-native speakers of English….” In addition, Russell stated that “…reducing vowels inappropriately is one of the major contributors to an English accent in other languages” (Ana Paula G. Mumy, M.S., CCC-SLP). A schwa sound is found in the first syllable of the word “attention,” in the second syllable of the word “necessary,” and in the last syllable of the word “idea.” While the schwa sound is frequently represented by the letter “a,” it can also be represented by other vowels. For native speakers of English, the schwa sound is automatically used when it should be. However, non-native speakers must learn which words contain schwa sounds.

Non-native speakers of English often have difficulty knowing when to add an “s” to nouns. Some non-native speakers of English tend to pluralize nouns that should not be pluralized. In most instances, an “s” is not added to mass (non-count) nouns like “ice” and “luggage.” It is correct to say “I need some ice for my drink, please” but not “I need some ices for my drink, please.” You can say “We are looking for our luggage” but not “We are looking for our luggages.” In some cases, an “s” is added to mass nouns – for instance, when a specific type of that item is described. “We had Italian ices for dessert.” Some additional characteristics of mass nouns can be helpful in identifying them. They usually cannot be preceded by an indefinite article – “a” or “an” – or by a number. You cannot say “a luggage,” “an luggage,” or “three luggage.” You can say “a piece of luggage” or “three pieces of luggage.” Mass nouns can typically be preceded by the word “some.” There are a limited number of nouns that are the same whether they refer to one or more than one. For example, “A deer jumped over the fence” or “Six deer crossed the street.” Some non-native speakers of English do not pluralize words that should be pluralized. For example, rather than saying “I will be visiting one of my relative” one should say “I will be visiting one of my relatives.” 

How would you rate your communication skills? Do you have an accent that is interfering with your ability to pursue your career goals? Have you perhaps tried unsuccessfully to improve the accuracy of your speech without direct professional assistance? Could enrolling in an accent modification program be paid for by your employer as part of your continuing education? Speech-language pathologists who specialize in accent modification can help you become a more effective communicator.