Your foreign accent: Love it and never lose it

Don’t tell your English professor that I told you this. Foreign accents are wonderful and whether you are travelling for study, business or pleasure you should do everything to keep yours. They can be good for business too.

Here is a joke that you may or may not appreciate. (Especially if you are French…but then, they give me such a hard time about bad Bristish food, bad British weather etc. etc. they I should be allowed to get my own back from time to time!)

An English teacher is teaching to a group of French businessmen has recently begun her class. She asks them if anyone can give a sentence with three colours.

“Err..yes!”  says one of them excitedly.


 If you understand this joke you have almost certainly heard a French person speaking English with a strong accent. (The “Yellow” plays strongly on the French tendency to say “Oui, hallo” when they answer.)

Accents are absolutely wonderful and if you are a smart business person, you will do everything to keep yours

If you are French, you may even be a little bit offended by the joke. But you shouldn’t be. You see, accents are absolutely wonderful and if you are a smart business person, you will do everything to keep yours.

International students in particular often get embarrassed about the fact that they have an accent when they speak a foreign language. This can even become an obsession that stops them communicating altogether. Since it is one of the things that we grade them on in oral exams, this is perhaps not surprising. And yet those accents are part of what they are and where they come from; they should be doing everything possible to keep them.

A recent article in the Economist Those bloody Scandinavians: What the Nordic crime-writing boom says about globalization” concludes that one of the major selling points of Scandinavian detective novels is that they are just SO Scandinavian. In a flat, globalized world people want to get back to the specific nature of different regions.

“Place matters more than ever in a globalized world,” argues the writer.

 “…the Nordic crime writers understand that the more interconnected the world is, the more people crave a sense of place—the more distinctive and unusual the better.”

Accents identify us as people from different regions and cultures. They are a mark of what makes us different.

Accents are wonderful to listen to

I love accents of non-native speakers

I spend most of my working time negotiating in English to non-native speakers. Nearly all of them have accents and to be honest I love them all. The sharp guttural sounds of Germanics, soft spoken Asians, the singing lullaby vowels that only northern and eastern Europeans produce and the beautiful rounded ‘R’ that Indians produce in their unique fashion. All of these are a joy to listen to. They are what make the person different and interesting. OK, I even have a soft spot for American accents as well…after all, English is a foreign langauge for them too! 🙂

Indeed, there is only one accent that I personally find unbearable. It is the one where a non-native speaker tries to be sound more English that any Englishman even could. It is the one where they try to give the impression that they are practicing to have tea with the Queen. (That’s Queen Elisabeth II, not the rock group!)

Who cares if Shakira has a problem with her diphtongs?

I am not going to pretend to be an American girl when I come from Colombia

And keeping your accent may actually be beneficial to you. The singer Shakira has had a fantastic career perhaps in part because she has a strong Latin American lilt. Of her accent, she says:

“I am not going to pretend to be an American girl when I come from Colombia.”

OK, so perhaps not everyone has the same attributes as Shakira. And if you are a guy who has been lucky enough to get a face to face meeting with the lady in question, and the only thing you can done is be picky about her accent, you’ll get very little sympathy from anyone! Clearly, her accent has not stopped her being successful in the English speaking world.

Accents in Business

Yes, but what about in a company?  Won’t it be a handicap to have an accent if I am speaking English? Well, have a listen to this short audio document. You have 4 current / previous CEOs speaking English. They are Wang Jianzhou, China Mobile, Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom, Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan and Mohamed Al-Mady, Saudi Basic Industries. (I have mixed them up but I don’t think it will be difficult for you to guess.)

Listen to 4 CEOs speaking English

4 successful CEO “despite” their accents

Between them these 4 people manage 770.000 employees. They run some of the world’s largest companies and see to have done quite well for themselves despite a lack of elocution lessons?

Still not convinced? Well, watch this two minute interview between the Indian journalist, Prannoy Roy and Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda.

Both are communicating in English and yet their respective accents couldn’t be more different. They both understand each other and the interview goes well. Now think about the two of them talking to each other, one with an accent from Oxford and the other from Cambridge.

Prannoy Roy: “Delighted to see you, old chap. Would you like a spot of tea?”

Akio Toyoda: “Rather, Prannoy. Perhaps, we can they go a jolly good game of tennis?”

Ridiculous? Of course, it would be.

Accents are part of our DNA

Accents are part of your DNA. They are what help us to identify people and in the work place can even be considered to be part of your business card. So if you are French and find it difficult to aspire a “H”, Germanic and just can’t get rid of those clipped endings to words or Indian and put 3 ‘R’ in the word “Very”, just enjoy it. Those sounds are what make us a little unique in a flat, boring world. Love your accent and never, ever lose it.


See also:

How to Survive in a Foreign Society When You Cannot Speak the Local Language

Generation Passport: “This is a good question.  I had to figure this one out myself when I flew into the Republic of Georgia.  I couldn’t even say “please” and “thank you” in the local language, Georgian, when I flew into the country.  Not only that, but I didn’t know the alphabet either!”

German Intrusions of the English Language!

Worlds Fusion: “‘Shlep’ is one word from the German language that has been adopted into mainstream English. Although this is a more popular term in America than it is in Britain, many in the country still use it to express the arduous task of lugging things around.”

What is your (inter)nationality ?

Modern World: “There is no doubt that many countries are consistently losing their old national identities, and start imitating other countries’ cultures.The gaps have been narrowed so much, so that in some cases it’s hard to tell where people come from.”

The power of a language

Modern World: “I personally see a language as a tool to understand something different, it can be a different culture or values that are reflected in the words and the idioms, different professional background, but in the end , this tool helps us with the most important thing – communicating with people like us.”

Sirja Bessero on the nagging doubts of a non-native speaker teacher

Ken Wilson’s Blog: “One of the workshops was given by a non-native speaker English teacher. At one point during the presentation, she said something native speakers would probably not say, a word or an expression which apparently didn’t sound right to native ears. Instead of letting it be, a woman in the first row corrected the speaker in a rather reprimanding way. “

Flee the Country: Teach English Abroad!

Accent Wang Jianzhou, China Mobile, Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom, Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan and Mohamed Al-Mady, Saudi Basic Industries Shakira Carlos Ghosn France   Study Abroad  French Business School  Grenoble EM  International Affairs   Higher Education   ESC Grenoble   Strategy  Blog  Global Ed   Graduate Business School    Mark Thomas


Filed under Education, Great Britain, India, Intercultural, International studies, Saudi Arabia, USA

11 responses to “Your foreign accent: Love it and never lose it

  1. Pingback: Censorship: The Berlin Wall and the Great Firewall of China | GlobalEd

  2. Linguistic studies show that people speaking a foreign language with proper pronunciation and accent are quickly considered to be good at the language. Even if they make grammar mistakes and have poor vocab. On the other hand, if your grammar is perfect and vocab rich, but you sound a lot like you would in your own language, people will believe you are not good at the language.
    Strong accent in addition inevitably means that it’s harder to understand what you say. I’m fleunt in 3 foreign languages but have my own accent in each of them. I don’t like it and I will always work on it

    • Mark Thomas

      Brano, Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Obviously, this is a personal choice. I agree with you about the studies that people have a positive percpetion based mostly on accent. Unfortunately, my experience has proved that my own first impressions of someone have been misleading. I have met some quite brilliant and fascintaing people in my time with very strong accents indeed. Had I just discarded them for poor pronunciation I would have missed out on a lot. Anyway, the lilt of a gentle accent is still always nice to hear. So keep working on yours, but don’t get too worried about it. It is part of what you are. Thanks again for your comments.

      • yep yep I totally agree. The downside of that is that people judge based on first impression without realizing it. So no matter how misleading it can be, it’s what happens all the time

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  5. Prateek

    First of all thanks for your time for sharing your views on the topic.
    In a global world where people are collaborating and things are pretty mixed the accents can be worked upon and made comprehensible so that the communication doesn’t break down. Secondly, being subjective as we sometimes have to be I like English accent and myself find the indian accent harsh (with alphabetical sounds as harsh as if hammered against the rock example : Tttrrrruck) Thirdly, cultures are a kind of preference these days and while living in a Global environment it is important to adopt good things of a culture and leave the bads. So, for me without losing the good things of my own culture and picking the good features of the western culture works.
    Meanwhile I dont know if you have already checked this out but this blog definitely covers some significant points that yours missed out on:

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  9. JP

    Never be afraid of being different.
    It’s all about authenticity.
    A foreign language speaker trying to sound more posh than the queen is not very credible.

    Be yourself – be authentic – be credible.

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