As a Human Resources (HR) professional, how do you navigate through the issue of accented speech without causing offense?
The first thing to do is to separate accented speech from language learning. Language fluency is generally determined during the interview process however, some companies do have their own language fluency tests as part of the application process.
If your employee is no longer on a probationary status, then their language fluency has already been determined to be sufficient. In this case, it is problematic to address language fluency. The employee will feel unmotivated and devalued, and the company is not in a position to take punitive measures around language fluency at this point without risking human rights or labour law disputes. Often, language fluency is incorrectly identified as being a
central problem when it actuality it may be due to workplace diversity issues or accented speech.
Accented speech is not a language fluency issue, it is a communications skills issue.
A language training program will go over language structure but not accented speech. To be fair, everyone has an accent and most people can imagine a Canadian born English speaker who has difficulty being understood due to his or her heavy regional accent. As a result, accented speech must be addressed as a communication skills issue and not a language fluency issue.
When is accented speech a problem?
Typically, these observed behaviors will impact the person's work and career, and accented speech is now a problem.
- First, you should consider any observed behavior.
- Perhaps no one can understand his/her verbal communications.
- Meetings are a source of frustration and lead to complaints.
- Perhaps he/she is being excluded from meetings and verbal workplace dialogues in general.
- Finally, he/she may be disengaged from their work and be subject to negativity and inappropriate remarks from their co-workers.
How do you address accent speech with your staff?
Share the L2 Accent Reduction Centre progress reports with the manager, and help them to identify how the training is helping the employee increase his/her performance.
- First, you should determine if the person cares about the impact accented speech may have on their career. The person may not care. He/she might not be concerned with long term development with the organization. In most cases though, people do care and generally strive to become successful within their organization. He/she will welcome training that will make them better performers.
- You also need to consider the person's manager. Is providing a solution to this problem something that the manager sees as valuable? You may need to go over any observed behavior with the manager to confirm that they identify the problem in the same way that the employee does. They may not be aware or in many cases may have misidentified accent speech as being a language fluency or cultural difference issue. If the manager is supportive, then you should involve them in the training process.
Accent reduction training is a life-long skill.
Those who complete the training are thankful for having had the opportunity to improve how they speak and express they have unlearned many habits learned when they studied English. They are more confident and feel more valued. Additionally, their coworkers will be more open and accepting since dialogues about accented speech lead to further understanding of workplace diversity issues.