Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Tag: comprehensibility

8 Confidence-Boosting Tricks for Better Communication

Communication difficulties are at the core of many of the problems we face in our day-to-day lives. How many times have you stumbled through an important conversation, knowing exactly what you wanted to say but feeling like you were failing to get your point across? Communication problems affect everyone from time to time, some more than others. If you often find yourself feeling embarrassed or ashamed of how you talk, or if you have trouble getting your ideas out with the right meaning, that can affect your confidence. This problem can prevent you from sharing your great ideas with the people who need to hear them.

Confidence on Hand

Here are some steps you can take to speak with greater confidence so you can wow others with your ideas:

  1. Write down what you want to say. If your message is complex, try to organize your ideas into their simplest forms with transitions that flow from one idea to the next. Index cards are great for this, because you can put one idea on each card, lay them all out, and move them around until the order makes sense. Add your transitions in between the ideas when you have the order just how you want it. Another bonus to using index cards is that they fit in most pockets in case you need to refresh your memory in the parking lot or the elevator.
  2. Put a key message on a stone or small piece of paper and keep it in your pocket. While you’re speaking, slip your hand into your pocket. Sometimes just feeling that stone or paper can trigger you to remember what you wanted to say. At the same time, it can help you remain calm and relaxed.
  3. Practice what you want to say. Practice anywhere and everywhere: in the mirror, in your car, with your cat, with a friend. The more you practice what you want to say, the more automatic it will become. Then, you can put your energy into…
  4. Body language – use it to add meaning to your message. Think about what you might want your hands to be doing. If your arms are crossed in front of your chest, you’re sending a negative message that tells others that you’re closed off to their ideas and input. Standing with your hands on your hips is a position that emanates power. Use a mirror or ask a friend to find out what kind of a message your body language is sending and work to figure out the right position for your message. On a similar note…
  5. Stand in a powerful position for a few minutes before you have the conversation. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology last year showed that when people stood in a “power pose” before a job interview, they did better in the interview than people who had a more withdrawn position before the interaction.
  6. Do something before the conversation that relaxes you. Take a walk outside, draw a picture, or simply stop to smell the roses. If you’re calm going in, you’re more likely to be calm going out.
  7. Take care of your body. You have better control of your mind when you get enough sleep, eat good quality food, and drink plenty of water.
  8. If you’re concerned about your accent, try practicing what you want to say, with stress on the appropriate words. If that’s difficult for you to do on your own, or if you still have concerns, seek help from a speech pathologist or ESL teacher. People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Accent in English as a Second Language

It’s not you, it’s them (sometimes).

If you’re communicating in a language you picked up later in life – also known as an L2 – effective communication is more than just knowing how to put the words together. It’s about pronouncing the words clearly and fluidly, with just the right intonation to get your point across, and using the right words. That’s true even in a first language.

A topic of investigation for speech researchers is what, exactly, contributes to our hearing an accent in the speech of someone’s L2. Three factors have been identified as affecting how English spoken as a second language sounds: intelligibility, accentedness, and comprehensibility.

Intelligibility is a measure of how much of what a person says can be understood by a typical listener.

Accentedness is similar to intelligibility, but involves influence from a native language. When we speak languages we learned later in life, it’s hard to know how much of an accent we have, because the perception of accentedness comes from a listener who learned that language from birth. What can we do about this? Knowing we have an accent, we can work to make our L2 sound more natural, or native. This is where the accent in “accent modification” comes from.

Comprehensibility is a little bit different. It has to do with how easy it is for a listener to process what someone else says. It involves not just the sounds of speech, but also the meanings of the words and how they’re put together. Comprehensibility gets at our deep understanding of a language: knowing which words to use and when, in what order, and getting those words out clearly enough that the person you’re talking to can follow what you’re saying. I think we’ve all had conversations with someone speaking an L2 where it took a lot of mental effort just to understand what they were trying to say.

A study published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research looked at the three factors mentioned above in Spanish speakers with English as an L2. The speakers were each assigned to one of three groups depending on how much of an accent they had and were recorded as they produced three types of sentences:

  1. True/False: A statement that is either true or false. (Example: June is the first month of the year.)
  2. Meaningful: A sentence that is grammatically correct and makes sense. (Example: Crazy Mary digs a deep hole.)
  3. Unexpected: A sentence that, although it is grammatically correct, does not make sense because of the vocabulary used. (Example: The refrigerator ran across the field.)

Monolingual English speakers listened to the recordings and ranked them by accent. These rankings coincided pretty accurately with the accent groups the speakers were assigned to. Of the three sentence types, the True/False sentences were the easiest to understand, and were judged as being spoken with less of an accent than the other two sentence types. What’s more interesting is that while the meaningful sentences were pretty easy to understand, the listeners judged the recordings of the unexpected sentences that didn’t make sense as being spoken with more of an accent. In other words, when the speakers said sentences that did not make sense because of the vocabulary, the listeners perceived a stronger accent!


This research indicates that part of what gives us an accent when we’re speaking a second language comes from the person we’re talking to. We have to take into account how their brain is processing what we’re saying. We can do this by really thinking about and working to improve the way we present our ideas and introduce new topics. Often, it’s our most exciting and innovative ideas that we most want to be heard by others. Working on communication skills in your second language can help others to start thinking about the meat of your ideas without having to waste brainpower processing the words you’re using to communicate.

It takes a long time to learn another language really well, and if you have, chances are good that you’ve worked your tail off to learn the vocabulary to communicate intelligently with native speakers. Lingua East can help you with your accent and comprehensibility so that people hear your ideas, not your accent. Contact us today!

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