There are millions of people from all over the world and from every corner of this country working in our North American companies, and in companies all over the world–companies that use English as the global language of business. Many of the people are highly educated, highly motivated, and highly valuable human assets–to their colleagues, their companies, and the shareholders of those companies.
A portion of them have a problem—a pebble in their shoe, really—that could keep them from climbing the career ladder, delivering their full potential to their employers, and earning the rewards and recognition they deserve. And the problem is this: their voice and speech make it hard for them to be understood.
They may be native speakers who have speech deficiencies, (mumbling, shyness, speaking too fast) or they may speak English as a second language and struggle with pronunciation, grammar, and colloquial expressions that are unfamiliar to them.
This is not a trivial problem. It frustrates team members, slows down work, can be dangerous in some situations (such as in restaurants and schools) and can cause colleagues to discount or dismiss the contributions of perfectly capable people.
This, in turn, can cause the non-native speaker or the native speaker of English with speaking deficiencies to become discouraged and speak more tentatively, or less frequently, thus compounding the problem.
He or she could disengage from the work, yet remain on the team as a non-participating member, withdrawing from discussions and debates, not contributing knowledge and insight, and falling behind in the acquisition of the needed skills. After all, we all know when people are pretending to listen to us and pretending to understand: we know when we’re being ignored and devalued, and it does not feel good.
Providing voice and speech training could help such people, improve their performance, and unlock their value to the organization. The organs of speech are highly responsive to exercise, and a person with unclear speech is quite readily transformed into a lively conversationalist if they have the desire, and are willing to put in a little effort over a relatively short period of time.
The work goes beyond accent reduction to what I call the whole voice.
First, accent reduction is not really an accurate term, or a valid goal. The foreign or regional speaker will always have her native accent because it is the music of her native culture. It will not go away, and she does not want it surgically removed or reduced. Nor do we. What she can do is learn to make the particular English sounds that are difficult for her by learning how to place her tongue, lips, palate and jaw in the proper position.
But that is not enough. He will be understood when he uses the full strength of his vocal instrument in combination with his improved diction. His voice is a wind instrument, and he must learn to play it as best he can—with the full strength of his breath, and the clear stops of his vowels and consonants.
Voice and speech training can have a measurable impact on the clarity of a person’s speech, on their confidence, and on the comprehension of listeners. We say that our process addresses the whole voice because it includes accent reduction, production of sound, vocal variety, and improved enunciation.
Demosthenes was a famous Athenian orator and statesman who trained himself to speak well by putting a pebble in his mouth to strengthen his clarity of speech. If you have non-native or regional speakers working for your company who are hard to understand—who have pebbles in their shoes—which makes it hard for them to deliver their full potential, give them a break.
With good training, you can help them strengthen the clarity of their speech, which will strengthen them and the productivity of your organization.