Is your accent hurting your career?

When I meet people for the first time, they often tell me they can’t quite place my accent. They usually ask where I’m from originally. Living in New York that’s not all that unusual since it often seems that everyone is from someplace else.

I’m not.

As a native Brooklynite and the proud child of Eastern European immigrants, I grew up in a heavily Italian-American neighborhood hearing a mélange of different accents and inflections. My first job straight out of high school involved a lot of phone answering and interacting with a wide range of international clients. My boss called me in after a few weeks and looked extremely uncomfortable. The gist of our conversation? I was told that my co-workers and our clients loved me. They just often couldn’t understand a word I was saying. My supervisor told me to lose my Brooklynese accent and eventually I did. And so while I’m still a natural mimic when it comes to accents, I can’t seem to reclaim my own. If you get me angry enough though, you might still hear traces of my long-lost accent, but it’s increasingly rare.

If you find that you wonder if you should lose your own unmistakable regional twang or timbre, you might want to wait before starting your own Eliza Doolittle accent coaching regimen.

Keep it if you can

“As a public speaking and media coach, I always encourage my clients to be as authentic as possible — and that includes how they speak”, said Emmy Award-winning television host Dave Aizer is a motivational speaker and head media coach of Elite Media Coaching.  Aizer explains that you can tweak the way you speak without completely changing it. Some regional accents also involve word choices. “Sure, they may have to tweak their word choice and there’s always an opportunity to improve pacing and vocal inflection, but I rarely find it necessary to alter my clients’ accents. In fact, having an accent sets you apart and can make
you memorable, which is the ultimate goal.” Plot twist.

Refine, don’t discard

Believe it or not, speaking in a way that’s uniquely you and part of your brand could actually help set you apart in the career world in the best way possible. Aizer cautions “If your accent is thick and can make you difficult to understand, you must be mindful of that.” If you want to hold onto your accent, he says to “Speak slower and enunciate more.

And, if certain words are especially challenging, find a synonym that’s easier to say. Essentially, you may need to refine your accent, but you shouldn’t lose it. In fact, you should embrace it; it makes you unique.”

It depends on your accent

Back in the ‘90s TV nanny Fran was known for her over the top Queens accent. Annoying yes, but it helped define the character. If you’re trying to decide if you should soften your own regional or international accent, try this. Ask yourself if people often compliment you on your accent, or do they more often ask you to repeat words over and over and over again? If it’s the former, keep your accent. Dovid Efune, Editor in Chief and CEO of The Algemeiner has a charming if slightly unidentifiable British accent. Efune jokes “If your accent is British. Yes, keep it. You sound smarter.”

On a more serious note, he says that it’s hard to quantify the actual value your accent presents. “It’s hard to quantify. Who knows? I haven’t studied the impact. It’s good to stand out a little bit.” And that might be the key.

If your accent makes you stand out in a good way, keep it. If people look confused as soon as you open your mouth, it might be time to update your accent.