Practica: Putting the accent on accents

In one of our first diversophy® games we posed the question illustrated above, which attempts to call attention to the unconscious bias at work in how we framed others when listening to them speak. Context is the key to our perspectives on accents. We should not demonize or penalize others, nor be penalized for our own efforts at contributing to life in our own voices. Yet there are good reasons to improve our linguistic skills in both workplace and the social situations. As I mentioned in the previous post, such improvement should not be perceived as "being fixed" ( in my world this is often associated with veterinary medicine rather than language instruction), but rather acquiring a language and an accent are best associated and accomplished with the joy of learning.

Suppose we want to acquire a new accent that fits better in the context in which we are working or socializing. We can hire a teacher or coach and even perhaps ask our employer to ante-up the coin for this, with the rationale that swifter and clearer communication on our part will ultimately contribute to the ROI. But here may be other workable strategies or at least supplementary ones. What follows are a couple that have been part of my experience.

Personally, I continually find it useful to ask my friends and colleagues for advice and even on-the-spot correction of my inaccuracies, when I am thrust into a situation of speaking the tongue that is not native to me but is so to them. I have offered the same service to others eager to improve their verbal skills. This is not always easy. Some years back I asked the secretary of our organization for real time corrections of my linguistic errors and mispronunciations in French. Since her cultural background was a bit more hierarchical than my own, she was hesitant for quite a while, so, being seen as a kind of boss figure, I had to keep on coaxing. Now, however, we have come to the point where she will do it automatically, though not in front of others, which is a good practice in this regard. I usually learn something or improve something every time I am with her.

Another tactic that works well in the class or training room is the use of improvisational theater. Here role-playing takes the onus off of acting and speaking differently, and it becomes fun rather than discipline. Trying to be somebody else or to act like someone else is often hindered by shyness or forbidden by political correctness in everyday life. But, on stage, we are able to invite the other into ourselves and appropriate their way of speaking and doing in the safety and excitement of play. What we learn under the guise of theater embeds itself more quickly and more firmly. It tends to stay longer than what we learn in lectures and textbooks.

Unfortunately, today it is too easy to confuse cultural misappropriation with cultural learning and adaptation. Passing for another identity while hiding one's own has been a survival technique for many individuals from targeted groups. The context often being one of shame and pain. True, past culturcides, violations sprouting from ethnocentricity have left raw sensitivities, so care must be exercised and permission sometimes asked when we imitate others in order to embrace and learn from them. With a sense of goodwill and appreciation, we attempt to become more diverse in ourselves and richer in our connections with each other. We are not interested in deceit but togetherness.


Image: USA Domestic diversophy® game card

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.