This colleague I'm sure is very technically proficient, however their very thick accent makes it hard to follow them when they're giving presentations or when they're trying to speak with authority for any length of time.

Is there anything I can do to better facilitate communicate between this member and myself?

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    There was a similar question recently: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/132598/… Jun 12, 2019 at 15:04
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    I suggest you try to keep the communication with him in writing and not in speaking
    – Sandra K
    Jun 12, 2019 at 15:11
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    @JoeStrazzere "my colleague" and "my foreign born colleague" both unambiguously indicate 'one colleague'. All my edit did was to remove irrelevant information. I bet asker can understand Canadians.
    – AakashM
    Jun 13, 2019 at 12:28
  • @StephanBranczyk there's no way i'm going to spending my free time teaching myself to speak in broken english.
    – user47639
    Jun 17, 2019 at 19:04

3 Answers 3


I have worked with colleagues from other countries that sometimes have had thick accents. I found that it was helpful at times to apologize for MY inability to understand. Emphasize that it's YOUR fault, not necessarily their fault, but sometimes you just need to speak up and ask them to repeat it. Or put it in writing.

Having said that, I found that one particular coworker from Hong Kong was easier to understand after working with her over time. I grew accustomed to her accent. After leaving the company I got back together with her and some others for lunch 6 months later to catch up. It was interesting that I once again had difficulty understanding her, because I just wasn't used to hearing her speech patterns.

Bottom line? Be friendly, kind, and make an effort to understand. And try not to do anything that would offend them. In time you'll learn to understand each other better.

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    As a foreign born, I would include writing vs speaking. Since most of "us" wrote in English for many years but rarely spoke it.
    – Sandra K
    Jun 12, 2019 at 15:12

Try your best to understand, use emails as much as you can.

Whatever you do, do not bring it up. They can't help their accent or their skills in the specific language, they will improve over time. You cannot really do anything else to make them change the way they talk or you change the way you hear it.

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    I would probably take classes if I knew that my speech was unintelligible but I understand that can be a very touchy subject.
    – user47639
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:36
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    This is incorrect, or at least not always correct. There are cases where someone with a thick accent can be better understood if they are louder, or speak slower, or similar things. If you can identify something simple that they can do that will help, and you can present it in a way that is not offensive, they'll often be grateful for the insight.
    – Ben Barden
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:47
  • +1, use emails instead.
    – Sandra K
    Jun 12, 2019 at 15:13

As a foreigner born worker with a thick accent,

I will kindly say, we're more than aware of our accent, generally arn't proud of it, and are usually legit trying to speak better. In the country where I'm currently living, the locals like to say:

'I didn't understand you acoustically'

As a way to politely say they didn't understand what you said. It annoys me to no end as I know that isn't true. I and most people would simply prefer people not do the 'its not you, its me' and just simply say,

I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand your sentence, could you please repeat or rephrase?

This gives me the option to say it in another way that you may understand better, and it's honest. Apparently that specific word(s) I need to work on some more.

I generally, when having presentations, have points in the slides which say the subject I'm currently talking about. This may be something helpful to suggest to your college to add, to allow context to help you understand the current spoken subject.

The other thing I would suggest is, suggest getting a drink some time with the person, and just talk to them. You'll get used to their speaking style soon enough. ;)

  • "It annoys me to no end as I know that isn't true." That needs more clarification. What do you think 'I didn't understand you acoustically' means? Jun 14, 2019 at 14:40
  • The sentence directly afterwards explains perfectly fine. Their use of my said example is simply another form of 'its not you, its me' they heard me perfectly fine. They just didn't understand. I will also mention, that the local language where I have an accent is not english. Jun 14, 2019 at 14:44
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    But you said "I didn't understand you acoustically", not "I didn't hear you". Jun 14, 2019 at 14:47

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