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Want to 'neutralise' your accent?

By Anita D'Souza
Last updated on: September 02, 2005 19:58 IST
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How would you describe the term communication?

Is it merely the 'act' of sending or receiving a message, or is it the 'process' of sending a message?

Actually, it is both the act of sending and receiving a message as well as the process of doing it. The process of communication also involves getting the desired response.

Heard of accent neutralisation?

Call centre~ He has got a strong Malayalam accent.

~ She is Bengali but speaks with an impeccable English accent.

~ He speaks with a broad/ heavy/ strong/ thick Bihari accent.

~ I thought I could detect a slight south Indian accent.

~ He spoke in heavily accented English.

What exactly do we mean by the above statements? An accent is the peculiar style and rhythm of speaking a particular language; we also call it 'speech music'.

Factors like mother tongue, socio-economic background and medium of education influence one's accent.

Which brings us to accent neutralisation. It means removing all traces of the mother tongue rhythm and adopting the native rhythm of the language you are trying to learn -- English in this case.

With the onset of BPO and international job opportunities in the Indian market, there is a demand for candidates who can speak English without their local accent creeping in.

Your English, influenced by your Hindi?

Many speakers do not realise they are incorporating English words in Hindi sentences or Hindi words in English sentences.

Take for example:

  • "Pitaji, time kya hua hai (Father, what is the time right now)?"
  • "I have hazaar things on my mind right now (I have thousands of things on my mind right now)."

Today, 'Indian English' is widespread and well-known for its many eccentricities. For this reason, its 'grammar' must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Indian accents vary greatly from those who lean towards a purist British language to those who lean more towards speech that is tinted with the 'vernacular' (Indian language).

~ The most common instance of modified sounds is the changing of the sounds of English letters like 'D', 'T' and 'R'.

~ South Indians tend to curl the tongue more for the 'L' and 'N' sounds.

~ Bengalis (from both India and Bangladesh) and Biharis often substitute 'J' for 'Z' (as in 'jero' instead of 'zero').

~ People, especially from the Sindh (this pertains to both Indians and Pakistanis) have the habit of changing the 'W' sound to 'V' (as in 'ven' instead of 'when'). The rule to follow to overcome this habit is to 'kiss' your 'Ws' and bite your 'Vs'.

What we are striving for is the ability to communicate effectively, especially in the English language, which has the reputation of being one of the most complex languages to learn. I reiterate -- not difficult, but complex.

The intricacies of English

First, let's understand some of the intricacies of the English language through these two verses from a very popular poem titled Poem Of English (author unknown).

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

What's special about this verse? Words spelt differently have similar pronunciations.

For example, turpentine is pronounced as tur + pen + tien, where as marine, which also ends with 'ine' is pronounced as mar + een. Words spelt similarly have different pronunciations, not to mention the ones that sound nowhere near to the way they are written.

For example, you have psalm (pronounced as Saam) and ache (pronounced as ake as in bake).

Once you are aware of these intricacies, you will find that your pronunciation improves dramatically.

Part II: 10 ways to speak better English


Anita D'Souza has studied management with a specialisation in Human Resources from Welingkar's Institute of Management studies, Mumbai University. She has 10 years of work experience and is currently a Corporate Trainer and Instructional Designer with Godrej Lawkim's ITES division.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Anita D'Souza