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Accents In the Workplace: Is Accent-Reduction Training Warranted?

Jacques Clouseau

A recent article on ‘Business Communication Headline News’ caught my attention.

More than ever before, we are more likely to work with non-native English speakers. Many of them have heavy accents, tainted with foreign inflections. It is becoming  difficult to understand all the ‘versions’ of English that are making their way into the workplace.

The article suggests that one way to reduce the problem is to introduce ‘accent-reduction’ training in the workplace. Is this a good idea?

Here’s my take on it. I believe that non-native English speakers have a personal responsibility to assimilate into the business community by learning to speak English the way it is spoken.

It is upon them to eliminate barriers of communication. It is to their advantage to market themselves successfully to employers and potential clients and to project themselves as assets to the organization.

Therefore when accent-reduction training is offered at work, I think it is a good idea for non-native English speakers to take advantage of these programs.  However it is incumbent upon the organization to ensure that programs are introduced, implemented and managed in a fair and useful manner for the benefit of all parties.

Business communication is important enough to justify some kind of uniformity in language and tone in order for processes to be carried out efficiently and without misunderstanding.

I’d like to hear what “ya’ll” think about accents in the workplace.


  1. You make an interesting case, Patricia, but I worry that the quest for uniformity in expression could become a stalking horse for anti-‘foreigner’ sentiment among the new Know-Nothings in our society. Of course this is an extreme outcome, but it can become a slippery-slope, with conformity in viewpoint becoming the real objective. What happens to diversity of thought then?

    • Hi Bob,

      it’s an honor to have you here. Thank you for your comment. As a recent immigrant myself, my accent tends to draw attention wherever I go and mind you, mine is a pretty accent! So I speak as one who has marketed herself in a new culture and had a successful experience. Unfortunately the slippery slope that you speak of is both a reality and a risk that we must deal with. However, it seems to me that anti-foreigner sentiments exist with or without communication barriers. Perhaps they are politically motivated…bad apples that are simply resistant to diversity. I wonder if there is anything that can be done about these.
      Now diversity of thought…that is another animal altogether!

  2. Harry Cohan says:

    “Accent reduction” training would help with my workplace dilemma. I speak American English as my first language, work to improve my English skills in my spare time, had great scores on English exams and my SAT, and work as a technical writer. I have the worst time with the accents at my workplace. Also, a lot of the immigrants in the US today make the assumption (and I know this will sound coarse, but this is how they behave) that Americans are “stupid.” They seem to go out of their way to “enhance” an otherwise perfect document to fit their conceptions of good, grammatical English and technical or business style. I find my self-esteem floundering. I’ve complained to my boss that it seems ironic that people who don’t speak English as their first language are editing my stuff. He is not sympathetic. I guess he thinks I’m a bigot. I’m gathering I’m not allowed to complain about the accents, even though their sub-par English is definitely interfering with my prospects in the workplace. All these workers of foreign extraction with all their workplace protections. I’m a widow who was married to an American and whose father and uncles fought WWII. Where are my protections?

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