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I am a fluent English speaker from Singapore, and I am required to communicate with clients from the UK and US. I often feel inferior when speaking to them because of their accent and how perfectly they enunciate their words.

I feel ashamed of the way I speak with this accent, although it is normal in my country. How do I overcome this feeling and be better?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; the conversation, anecdotes, and encouraging words have been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '17 at 19:53
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    Since I'm not allowed answer, I'll mention something I have not seen in the answers: find an accent-reduction coach. Accent reduction coaching is very common. Even natives of a country will use such coaching when their local accents interferes in some way with their work. The coaching usually does not eliminate one's ability to use one's local accent; rather, it teaches one how to speak in the more standard accent at will. I have had co-worker who speak standard English at work, but are incomprehensible (to me) when they speak (e.g. on the phone) in their local accents. – kjo Jan 21 '17 at 12:54
  • @kjo: for what it's worth - the most incomprehensibly accented English I ever heard was a guy from the highlands of Scotland. I suspect he was laying it on extra thick for me but I could not understand a single word he said. Scots wa' hae..! :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jul 26 '17 at 23:11

13 Answers 13

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First, I'd say, learn to love your accent.

English is one of Singapore's official languages, so technically, you are an English-speaking country as well. Meaning that, technically, your accent is just one of the many kinds of English-speaking accents out there (e.g., Canadian, American, Australian, UK, etc.).

Second, I'd surround myself with examples of enunciation that I like.

If I were to want to adopt a more British accent, I'd surround myself with lots of British radio, TV, music, etc., so that I'd hear it all the time. I'd change my GPS to the British lady. I'd get the Harry Potter books on tape by Stephen Fry, etc.

Third, I'd remind myself again to love my accent and then worry about more important things like, "Who is Kourtney Kardashian not dating?"

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    love your last sentence. good way to put things back in perspective. – gazzz0x2z Jan 18 '17 at 9:16
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    @ Teacher KSHuang: You have truly hit upon the nerve of life. I worry about how all the Kardashians are doing every day, all day, and the OP should too. We all should. +1 Anyway, I come from the US where state to state people sound different. @Amelia:I like accents on women especially and so do lots of people here. Stop worrying. – bobbym Jan 18 '17 at 12:33
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    Changing your accent takes a lot more effort than just listening to the accent you would like to have. You have to listen very carefully to how those with your desired accent are speaking, not just what they are saying. You also have to spend significant time and effort listening to your own accent and practicing changing it. It is a bit like playing the piano; it does not come naturally or without effort. – Eric Jan 18 '17 at 19:01
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    @Eric I disagree with you (slightly). I am an American and have started binge-watching British panel shows (absolutely love Richard Ayoade) for the past couple weeks. Even in that short time frame, a couple of my closer friends have commented on how I'm saying a couple words differently, particularly after watching something. If I tried an accent, it'd still be terrible, but exposing yourself to a different accent will over time change the way you speak. I think thats how regional dialects start in the first place. – user56887 Jan 18 '17 at 20:36
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    (cont) But I do agree that to get it exactly right, it does take some serious dedication and training. – user56887 Jan 18 '17 at 20:37
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In the early years of my career, I used to have a similar anxiety when communicating with my American colleagues. I got over it in a few months because of:

  1. As long as they can understand you, most native speakers do not care about your accent. They understand that English is not your first language, so you cannot possibly speak it with the same level of proficiency as a native speaker.

  2. I looked at the bigger picture: I am proficient in four Indian languages, and English is my fifth language. It shouldn't bother me much if my command over a fifth language is less than perfect. You probably know other languages besides English, that should help you look at your English proficiency as less of an issue.

My advice would be stop feeling "ashamed" of your accent, I am sure your American and British counterparts don't care about it as much as you think they do. Most people in the world are nice, they see you as a human being, not as an accent. :-)

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    Actually, in the case of a Singaporean, it is quite possible that English is the OP's first language. It's just that it is Singaporean English rather than British English (or Australian, American, South African, or even Glaswegian). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 18 '17 at 12:14
  • @MartinBonner Yeah, of course. I too studied English as first language at school. Anyway, the first part of my answer is my personal anecdote supporting the answer, the last paragraph is the actual answer. The key point is being comfortable with who you are. – Masked Man Jan 18 '17 at 12:48
  • No, sorry. I don't mean "first language at school", I mean "mother tongue" - the first language the OP learned to speak as a baby. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 18 '17 at 13:09
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    Yes, I understood what you meant. What I intended to say was, "I studied English as a first language in school, but it is possible that OP's mother tongue is English". When I read my comment again, I realize that it does not mean what I intended to mean, but anyway, that's not a big deal. :-) – Masked Man Jan 18 '17 at 13:42
  • I'd go further ... provided they can easily understand you, they'll probably love your accent. I hope that my Spanish colleague never loses hers, it's an utterly delightful twist on standard English. If your accent is a cause of communication difficulty, just keep talking and listening, and it will "shift" in whatever way aids communication with the majority of people you are talking with. – nigel222 Jan 19 '17 at 9:40
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The first thing to do is forget about the issue with an accent, it won't be a problem at all if you're understandable.

It's also not a cultural issue as such, there's many many people who feel nervous about presenting to people and the strategies here should be the same, and it gets easier over time.

So, the usual things - practice, rehearse, make notes of what you're going to be saying in case you find yourself lost. Know your subject, and engage with some small chit-chat before the presentation to help you and your audience relax a little.

Again, it's perfectly natural to be nervous.

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If I am really nervous about something I will mention it in the beginning of the meeting. In that case, I would mention something like:

Please interrupt me if you have trouble to understand my accent. I am trying to improve on it and would appreciate your feedback.

In the best case, people will already comfort you at that point, giving you compliments on how your English is just fine. If they are honest, you have no reason to be nervous any more. If they aren't, that's their loss. They now have missed the opportunity to interrupt you without offending you.

In the worst case, people will in fact interrupt and ask you to speak more clearly. But now you need to not take offence, as you have asked for this feedback. By being aware that you see it as positive feedback they will also be more comfortable to speak up on it and it will usually not have any negative influence on either of you. And of course you might even have a topic for smalltalk in the break and get some nice tips for improving, shows to listen to, online courses to take and other ideas on improving your accent.

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Native speakers also have accents (as mentioned by previous answers). You may end up with one which is actually easier to understand for your clients.

I am French and English with a French accent is (usually) horrible. Not because it sounds bad but because the way words are pronounced make them more difficult to understand. On the other hand when I speak English with a German native I never had any doubts about what they meant. Not because they had a perfect accent (they did not) but because the way they pronounced words was simple to understand.

All in all, do not worry and do not overthink this "issue".

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    I once was in a meeting where a French person made a speech. It took a few minutes until people one by one figured out that he was speaking English, not French, and they started understanding him. – gnasher729 Jan 18 '17 at 15:06
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    @gnasher729: I had that once too, at a conference, with a presenter. Most of the people were not initially listening, just smiling broadly as they thought he started in French by mistake. It is only after a moment they realized in panic that he was actually speaking in English. – WoJ Jan 18 '17 at 17:09
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    +1. I'm not sure if all Americans think as I do, but I really enjoy accents. Of course, if pronunciation is slurred or otherwise difficult to understand that's awkward, but an understandable accent is fun to hear. So don't overthink it, don't swallow or slur words, don't rush through or speak too softly out of a mistaken sense of not bothering people, and go for it. And perhaps you'll ask questions and listen more than speak, which everyone should be eager to do. – Wayne Jan 19 '17 at 23:24
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I won't add the usual platitudes (other answers beat me to that, and they are largely correct). But in practical terms, how do you overcome this (coming from ESL speaker, so this includes hard-won practical experience):

  1. Rely more on written communication, not just as replacement for speaking, but as a formal backup.

    When you speak to someone, summarize the salient points made in a meeting's follow-up email, and send it. This will have several benefits, to boot:

    • If someone didn't understand something due to your accent, they will get it from the email, without mutual awkwardness on their or your part (many if not most people are even more ashamed of themselves not understanding someone's accent as you are of your own accent).

    • You come off as being professional, organized, and a good communicator because you took that step, which is good in general, AND will also change any possible misconceptions that people might have about your communication skills because of the accent.

    • You will benefit from such a summary in general, by internalizing the topic. Taking down notes is shown by research to be highly beneficial to both understanding the topic AND remembering it.

  2. Talk to someone you trust and/or are friendly with, who's a native English speaker; and ask their honest assessment of how your accent comes across. Ask them to NOT be too nice, that accurate assessment is what you need.

    Likely, they will tell you what other people on this Q&A already said: your accent is not nearly as bad as you yourself assume.

    If not, they can help you pinpoint specific areas for improvement.

  3. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

    Speak more. Find a meetup on Google that lets you speak to native English speakers in more casual setting.

    The only way to meaningfully improve one's accent (or the language skill in general) is immersion in the language - active listening and active communication.

    Also, listen to native media (TV etc...). Pick something that will engage your brain (TED videos, professional podcasts) and not Kardashians, for extra benefits :)

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Question: Do they want to comunicate with You or mock You?

Case one: If your accent does not make your speech extremely hard to understand there is no reason to feel shy. Any imperfections will be neglected; and strange accent is very last concern. I've heard really terrible frenglish and korean english and wasn't able to decipher most of the words. They also used word-by-word translation usng their native word order.

Case two: They do not deserve your time at all. Talk to them in mandarin instead.

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Speaking a second language with fluency is a difficult task and when it comes to speaking English there are various accents. The problem that most of the non native English speaker suffers is that they use the same accent as their own native language to speak English.

You can check the following guidelines to improve your English accent:

*To improve the accent you need to learn how to pronounce the words. You can start with the basics. First learn how to pronounce English words and perform a lot of practice and after some time you will be able to speak with the same accent as the native English speakers.

*And if you want to speak English fluently then the first thing you need is confidence and when you have to communicate in English then treat English as your first language not second.

*During English conversations, do not think about the grammar at all. People usually make more mistakes in English when they think about grammar.

*Do not speak English too fast. Take your time to think before speaking English. Find a friend to practice speaking English to improve your accent. You cannot improve your speaking skills without speaking English.

  • The last point is a good one. I used to play World of Warcraft with someone who I think was shy/embarrassed about her weak English skills. She would sometimes speak very softly on voice chat, and not enunciate. If she'd made the same sounds more distinctly, we'd have been able to figure out what she meant the first time. People can usually figure out what you mean if you try to speak clearly. You might be saying the "wrong" words, or have the grammar or verb tenses wrong, but it's usually not too hard to understand what you mean as long as people can hear what you actually said. – Peter Cordes Jan 18 '17 at 23:10
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English is a world language, so don't worry about your accent: everybody has one. If you are comfortable with yourself including your accent, those you speak to will be comfortable as well. Otherwise, they read your discomfort through your body language and THEY become uncomfortable themselves with you being uncomfortable with them. Nobody wins in such a situation.

As long as your English comes through as clear and you convey exactly what you communicate, you'll be fine. There are as many ways to speak English with an accent as there are people in the world. And your Singapore accent is as proper an accent as any.

When it comes to my accent, if they're happy, I am happy. If they're not happy, I'll still be happy. In fact, I'll be happy no matter what happens to them :)

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If pronunciation is your caveat, I would highly recommend singing.

I have had experience with this, myself; although I am a native english speaker, I feel this would still benefit a non-native speaker - especially one that only has problems with pronunciation.


Growing up, I was diagnosed with a speech impediment that grossly affected my pronunciation of words. I went to speech therapists in effort to fix the problem, and it was not until one such therapist introduced singing that I was able to overcome my issues pronouncing words. I had been seeing therapists for the greater part of the year; singing fixed my pronunciation within the month.

More recently, I actually attended singing lessons, in which my teacher found that I was not pronouncing particular words very clearly, due to the song being sung in another accent. They taught me to start off singing in my native accent, while emphasising the pronunciation of words. As practice went on, I quickly found that I could fluently sing the same song in the original accent.


Hopefully this helps, if you wish to adapt your accent for better pronunciation. It is certainly worth addressing the simple fact that your accent is a representation of your culture, and you should not really have to.

Personally, I would not consider it mis-pronunciation if the altered pronunciation was the result of an accent. Assuming you work in a professional environment, this should not be a problem. Furthermore, any negative reaction you might have should tell you a lot more about the other person than it should tell them, about you. This would personally only tell me that you were not a native speaker, and give me more respect for your communication capabilities.


To quote some Aussie slang;

English is a **** of a language

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tl;dr: Touchy-feely "we all have an accent" does not help anybody. Strive to be as intelligible as possible.1


I'm not a native speaker myself; I learned English only when I was 12, at the rather glacial pace a second foreign language is taught at most schools. Since then I have constantly tried to improve my written and my spoken English. This includes taming my accent. I would like to encourage you to do the same.

You are probably something like half a native speaker — I assume you have learned English much earlier than I did, from other Asian speakers. This may make it more difficult to speak with a lesser accent, because "Singapore English" is your normal way of speaking English, and not considered a deficiency in Singapore (while my German accent is considered a deficiency in Germany).

But I still think that your communication with American or English clients would benefit from an accent which is less pronounced. Part of the reason you feel uncomfortable may just be that you are self-conscious or just plain shy; but part of it may also be that you pick up uncomfortable vibes from your listeners. At my current workplace I have Asian Indian colleagues who are probably in a similar situation as you are. All of us have a hard time understanding them, and it does hinder cooperation. Any effort on their side to speak loud, slowly, pronounce words the standard way and watch our feedback would be greatly appreciated. I can well imagine that your clients would feel the same.

Bottom line: Make yourself as understandable as possible. Make that a conscious, ongoing effort.


1 I would suggest that also to people from the Scottish Highlands, the swamps of Louisiana or Saxony.

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As a native American English speaker, who also teaches AE to non-native speakers, I'll tell you what I tell all my students, no matter their skill level. Perfection is the enemy of good when it comes to language. Worry less about being perfect (regarding your accent), and focus on clear communication. Expand your vocabulary and practice, practice, practice. Let your listeners know that if they have any questions about what you say, please ask. And smile, especially when speaking face to face, or on the telephone (assuming the conversation allows for it, of course). Since you are fluent in the language, let your accent be part of who you present to your clients, and continue to ensure that your vocabulary is up to par. And keep practicing. The more you use it, the easier it gets.

Follow the range of suggestions others have noted. The suggestion from another answer about following up any face to face conversation with a written summary is excellent, and of particular benefit in business-related conversations, both so you can be sure you understood, and so your receiver can also be sure they understood, without anyone losing face. It's also not a bad idea in more personal contexts, like confirming times and dates, places, etc.

In the end, your listeners won't care at all about your accent, as long as they can understand you, and speak easily with you. Continue improving your fluency, and let your worries about your accent go. I know it seems very important to you, but believe me, to your listeners, it isn't. :)

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For what it's worth - don't worry about it. In the IT world we work with a lot of people who speak English with different accents. In my case the accents I hear are usually those of people from India, and I've got a couple co-workers whose native language is some dialect of Chinese, some who grew up speaking Arabic, and I've known a few over the years who were raised speaking Persian. In IT we're used to accents so it's not a big deal, and people won't think badly of you if you've got an accent. My personal feeling is that when I encounter someone who has worked hard to learn English and can carry on a reasonable conversation I'm somewhat embarrassed because I can't speak any language except English.

If you're really self-conscious about your accent, though, maybe it's something you can take classes to help you reduce it. I work for a guy who's from India, and it's clear that he's worked a lot to eliminate his accent, so it can be done with hard work and practice. If it's important to you than perhaps you should consider it, just to make yourself feel better.

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