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Does Your Accent Matter? Why You Should Focus On Cultural Awareness First


When Heather moved to Denmark, she learned to speak Danish fluently. She’s one of the most confident English speakers out there, but she soon realized that she lacked the confidence to raise her hand in meetings or stand up and present professional topics in Danish. When she had to speak Danish at work, she didn't feel calm. Luckily for her, most people speak English in Denmark, so she could easily switch back to English and have her power back. But what happens if you’re a Mandarin or a Hebrew speaker? You can’t just use a word in your native language and hope that everyone will understand.

If you are in that situation, you know what it feels like to work in an environment where you need to speak English every day and struggle to find the words, feel like people don't respect you for your ideas, feel like you're constantly not really belonging, not to mention the extra mental load of having to deal with the language in fast-paced situations. In this episode with Heather Hansen, we talk about linguistic bias, the importance (or not) of accent reduction, and most importantly, we discuss what truly matters when you need to communicate effectively in a global business environment.

Talaera Talks With Heather Hansen

Heather Hansen headshot (1)Heather Hansen is a global communication specialists trainer, TEDx speaker, founder, and author. Originally from the United States, Heather has lived and worked on multiple continents and worked with clients from all over the world. Currently residing in Singapore, she is the founder of Global Speech Academy where she's on a mission to unmute leaders and teams so they can be more innovative, inclusive, and efficient while adapting to modern challenges. Her 2018 TEDx talk, titled 2 Billion Voices, How To Speak Bad English Perfectly, has had over 100,000 views and digs into the challenges of navigating global English. She's the author of Powerful People Skills and a contributing author to three other books. Her new upcoming book, Unmuted, How to Show Up, Speak Up, and Inspire Action, is coming out on March 17, 2022.

What is linguistic bias?

TT39 Heather Hansen 1As social creatures, we tend to categorize and label others. We learn what is expected of people belonging to differentcategories or cultures. Social categories and stereotypes help us predict and make sense of the world around us. However, although they may be functional, cultural assumptions also lead to biases.

Linguistic bias refers to the prejudices we have based on how other people talk and communicate, and it happens to all of us, in every single conversation. It has to do with where we grow up,  what we grow up with, the people around us, and how they sound. It has to do with the media we consume, and how different accents are depicted. Accents are often a way to define us versus them. Traditionally speaking, if your accent didn’t sound like those around you, then you didn’t belong. Likewise, dialects spoken in some regions were (and, unfortunately, still are) considered superior and more prestigious than dialects spoken in other regions

You will notice how some accents are made fun of, considered less smart or sophisticated, or even cute. But if you are a female doctor from Alabama moving to New York, you most likely don’t want to sound like a cute country bumpkin. You want to be respected for what and who you are. And this happens in most countries (United States, UK, Spain, Denmark…), whether you’re speaking your native language or not. 

Gloria Eh-8owbU0AE-cCTGloria in Modern Family (6×07)

What is the issue with linguistic bias?

The main issue with linguistic bias is that we tend to correct others’ pronunciation, make fun of their accent, think less of them because of how they speak… And that can only lead to negative consequences. One of these consequences?  We damage their confidence.

We are talking about high-level professionals who are extremely competent in what they do. They’re experts in their field, and yet they are not bringing their ideas to the table. They’re not raising their hands in meetings. They’re not pushing back on what they think is a bad idea. Their lack of confidence is holding them back, and consequently, holding back entire organizations.

Linguistic bias makes it very difficult for us to communicate effectively in global settings. And we are not only biased by accents –we also tend to think that if an individual doesn’t speak up in meetings, it’s because they don’t have any good ideas or anything to say. When, in reality, they may just not feel confident in the language.

So, should you focus on improving your accent?

TT39 Heather Hansen 2-1The short answer is - you should focus on having a clear pronunciation. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should speak English exactly like a native speaker, for two simple reasons. The first one is that being yourself, your most genuine self, will open more doors for you than having a spotless accent. We all crave authenticity and realness, and your speech can be powerful without a perfect accent. 

The second reason you don’t need to sound exactly like a native speaker is - speak like a native speaker from where? There is no such thing as one single ‘global English’. There is not one single accent that is accepted and respected everywhere. Not even the most “standard” accents are considered standard in other parts of the world. US American accents are seen as uneducated in some areas of the UK. Some southern British accents are considered posh and are made fun of in other regions. 

There is not one global, standardized English. As Heather points out, “we are negotiating and compromising on meaning in every conversation”. The English spoken between two New Yorkers is not the same as the English spoken between someone from South Korea and Germany.

So how do we navigate these differences? By developing our communicative competencies and cultural awareness.

How can cultural awareness help you communicate more effectively?

TT39 Heather Hansen 3-1The first question you should ask yourself in any sort of communicative situation is who is your audience? Understanding who you are communicating with is an essential ingredient in any effective communication recipe. When you are preparing a presentation, a workshop, a meeting, an email… Think about your audience - Where are they from? What is their background and culture? What is their level of English?

If you are talking to Americans or Brits, you will want to learn idioms, understand sports analogies and phrasal verbs. If you are talking to non-native English speakers, you will want to express your ideas in the most literal way possible, without implied meanings or cultural references. This is part of increasing your cultural awareness, where you understand the nuances used in different cultures, including your own, and adapt accordingly.

Cultural awareness is a skill that benefits everyone in an organization. Both native and non-native speakers. It allows us to connect with others, understand each other, and overcome different biases. It helps us meet in the middle –not only because it’s fair, but because it makes more sense. 

Heather’s Unmuted framework takes a more holistic approach towards communication and cultural competence. Instead of only focusing on filling skill gaps, she takes it a step further to make sure we all become more conscious, confident, and connected communicators. Conscious communication involves self-awareness and cross-cultural skills. Confidence refers to your own self-confidence and self-worth. Connected communication brings in the more social component –environment, people skills, relationships, and psychological safety. They are all necessary to ensure effective communication in any global workplace, but we need to find the right balance so the three elements aren’t too loud or too soft.


At this point you may be wondering - my accent is not great, or my English is not perfect, I understand that being myself is great, and I should be authentic, but what do we do with this linguistic bias? How can I be myself if I know others will be judging me?

We understand the hypocrisy behind it, but we do have an effective recommendation. You should first consider who your audience is. Try to understand what truly matters to them, their background, and their cultural understanding. Then, aim for connection. Build rapport with them and always communicate in the clearest way possible.

If you are managing a team with multicultural, international team members, help them increase their cultural awareness. Always remember that global business is a two-way street. Start with your native-English speakers. If their communication style is limiting understanding in your global team, ask them to refrain from using jargon and sports analogies, help them understand the struggle of their non-native English peers, educate them on accent bias, and offer them support and training on cross-cultural communication. Then, prepare your international employees, provide them with the resources they need to understand all those idioms and analogies, and give them tools to speak more clearly and increase their confidence in communicating in English.

Continue to improve your cultural awareness and learn how to communicate effectively with other cultures - get in touch with Talaera. This article works as supporting material for our podcast episode on how to communicate better with US Americans. You can read the transcript below. Make sure you check out all our other Talaera Talks episodes and subscribe to get new episode alerts.

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Talaera Talks - Transcript Episode 39

If you are learning English, including new English words and expressions will help you with effective communication. Remember to check out our other episodes on how to make small talk, how to deliver engaging presentations, how to speak English fluently, and many more: visit the podcast website. Listen to it on your favorite platform.

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Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non-native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co-hosting this show with Simon. In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show!

Simon Kennell 0:24
Welcome to another episode of Talaera Talks. My name is Simon and as always, wherever you are, I hope you're having a great day. I'm joined as always by Paola. Paola, how are you doing?

Paola Pascual 0:37
Hi, Simon. I'm doing great, thanks. How are you today?

Simon Kennell 0:40
I am doing really well. We're I think both super excited with our guest today in our episode. Someone that is Yeah, I think kind of right up the alley of what we look for one, we're looking for a guest for this show. And you know, someone that I think all of our listeners will really enjoy. What do you think?

Paola Pascual 1:03
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, she's perfect! I'm so excited to you know, for people to listen to what she has to tell us. But can you tell us a little bit more about about her? Who is she? What does she do?

Simon Kennell 1:15
Yes. So our guest today is Heather Hansen and she is a global communication specialists trainer, TEDx speaker, founder, and author. Originally from the United States, Heather has lived and worked on multiple continents and worked with clients from all over the world. Currently residing in Singapore, she is the founder of Global Speech Academy where she's on a mission to, and I took this from the website because I love it so much, unmute leaders and teams so they can be more innovative, inclusive and efficient while adapting to modern challenges, which I love that. Her 2018 TEDx talk, titled 2 Billion Voices, How To Speak Bad English Perfectly, has had over 100,000 views. And it very, I think eloquently digs into the challenges of navigating global English. You know, what that means both as a concept and as a practice. She's a founder. She's the author of Powerful People Skills and a contributing author on three other books. But right now we're talking about Heather's new upcoming book, Unmuted, How to Show Up, Speak Up, and Inspire Action. Heather, thank you so much for joining us today. All the way from Singapore. How are you doing?

Heather Hansen 2:39
Wow, what an introduction. Thank you, Simon. Thank you. Yeah, I'm doing great. Thanks so much for having me. Both of you. I'm really excited to be here.

Paola Pascual 2:49
It's so great to have you!

Simon Kennell 2:50
Yeah. So so we, I mean, like we said, we've been kind of, yeah, peeking at your TEDx and looking at at kind of all of the things that you're doing. And, and I think so much of what you discuss, and you talk about aligns with so many of the things that we talk about with our students and with our clients, and, and so many of kind of the similar challenges. If you can kind of where we started, just tell us a little bit about what led you into getting into the communication field? And what was your early interest and why you decided to go down this path?

Heather Hansen 3:29
Wow, that goes way, way back. So all that, you know, growing up in America, and I know that you both spent quite a lot of your childhood in America as well. And I was one of those Speech and Debate kids in the US. And, yeah, so I had speech as a class in school because our school was so serious about speech and debate. And I had a really excellent coach and competed at the national level. I was an All American, I gotten tons of scholarships. So speaking became my thing. And it's always been my favorite thing. And then when I grew up, and I found out I could speak for money for a living and make it my job, I thought, wow, okay, this is what I have to do with my life. But it's a lot more than that. I think what the situation that made me realize this is what I wanted to commit my life to was learning foreign languages and having to navigate the world in foreign languages and knowing what that felt like because, you know, I studied abroad in Austria, I had to do my final exams in German, and I made myself sick for weeks before that oral exam. I am one of the most confident and comfortable English speakers out there, but put me up in front of a professor and my classmates in German and I completely fell apart. Then, a few years later, moving to Denmark, my husband's Danish I speak the language fluently. And yet still, I don't have the confidence to raise my hand in that meeting. I don't feel calm. To stand up and present professional topics in Danish, and I thought, What's it like for people who have to do this in English every single day? It's easy for me, I can switch to English whenever I want, right? I mean, everyone in Denmark speaks English, I, if I'm having trouble, I can say, oh, let's just do this meeting in English, then I have my power back. What about the Mandarin? Speaker? What about the Tamil speaker? What about, you know, all these languages in the world? They can't just say, oh, sorry, can I just use a mandarin word for that you all understand, right? And, and it just made me realize, like, wow, how difficult it is to live that way every day and feel that way every day to struggle to find the words to feel like people don't respect you for your ideas, to feel like you're constantly not really belonging, not to mention the extra mental load of having to deal with the language, it is so tiring. And when I when I realized how difficult it was, through my own experience, I thought, I really want to help people to speak as confidently in English as they do in their native languages. Because especially in global business, we have incredibly talented, amazing people who aren't speaking up, who aren't sharing their ideas we could be doing, we're nowhere close to reaching our potential in the world, because we aren't hearing from over half our population. And if we could start hearing those global voices, I think that the world could be very different. And that is at the heart of everything that I do. And I mean, you're both educators as well, I know that you both speak multiple languages. So I'm sure you've been in similar situations and had that same feeling. But that's really at the core of everything I do.

Paola Pascual 6:45
It's such a common challenge, right? Exactly what you were describing, like, we have so many talented people in the global workplace that, you know, so untapped, because they don't feel the confidence to speak up. And we've all been there. Like I've been in Belgium and tried to speak French and I thought my French was okay at school. And then you're in real life and you realize, like, whew, there are so many other things that I hadn't considered like humor and and nuances and implied meanings, and also accent, you've talked about this linguistic bias and, and the bias we we have that we don't realize towards people who don't speak the language perfectly. How often does that actually happen, in your opinion, this linguistic bias? And if you can explain a little bit more what it is?

Heather Hansen 7:30
Sure, yeah, the linguistic bias, I think, is a really, really important topic, and it is always there. So you say how often does it happen? It happens in every single conversation. And it doesn't matter if you're a native or non native, if it's two native speakers speaking together. I mean, just looking in the United States itself. A good friend of mine comes from Alabama, has a gorgeous southern drawl on her speech, while she moved to New York, was working on Wall Street in a male dominated environment, and was constantly made fun of for her accent was never taken seriously. Because in America, we have this idea or a judgement in many parts of America, not in the south, of course, but in other parts of America that oh, you know, a little slow, a little country bumpkin, a little, you know, not not really so bright, but very hospitable and friendly. So even she was hugely discriminated against in a very male dominated hard and fast industry. Because of the way she sounded. And this happens all over the UK. It happens in every country in every language. We see it in Denmark and Danish, Copenhagen Danish versus Odense, Fyn... I didn't I didn't - you know that Simon, right. I'm sure you experienced this. I mean, we both have been at the same school and Odense, and now you're in Copenhagen, right? I mean, do you ever get - Do you have a bit of that Odense or Fyn accent? Or you cleaned yourself of it?

Simon Kennell 9:00
No, you know, that's, that's I this is the thing right is I actually think it's so fascinating that you bring that up because even in such a small country like Denmark, there's such differences in southern Danish, like, Southern Fyn Densk, and also use like and on Jutland, there's Southern Jutland Danish, and then there's West Jutland and Northern Jutland. And so there's so many differences. And there's all of these preconceived ideas that are that are in those like, oh, like he speaks Rigsdansk stand, which would is like, you know, the Queen's English, which is like the Queen's Danish kind of thing. No, and that's and so there's all of these. Yeah, these aspects to it as well, which, I mean, it's amazing even in such a small country like Denmark that yeah, that happens.

Heather Hansen 9:51
Yeah, you can drive across it in five hours. And yet there you mentioned at least four different varieties which we can actually hear the differences and There are very clear cultural ideas around those differences. So when we talk about linguistic bias, it is there, it's everywhere in every language. And it has to do a lot with what we grew up with, where we grow up the people around us how they sound, we don't choose our accents, we pick up the ones that we hear around us, unless we find a model that we love the way they sound, and we're enamored with that particular person, and we work to sound just like them, then we can make changes like that over a very long amount of time, unless we're very young. So it's definitely there. A lot of it is given to us. It's given to us by our media. I mean, from an American perspective, we know that there are many different biases. Think of every bad guy in every movie you've ever watched. What is what are their accents, right? They're British, German, yeah, Russian. Yeah. And then more present day, they've gone to more Arab or right, we, the bad guys always have an accent. They're never. And that's because we hear accents. And that's the way that we define us versus them. So if them also has an accent, they're even more foreign, they really don't belong. And that makes it very difficult for us when we're in global settings, and we're trying to belong, but about global business where we all sound different. And there's a lot of bias in the hiring process. And in the promotion process by managers who think, oh, but they never speak up in meetings, they don't have any good ideas or anything to say, that's not necessarily the case, maybe they don't feel comfortable, maybe they aren't confident with the language, there could be many, many reasons. It's like me in Danish, I just don't feel confident, because I've had so many people, the minute I open my mouth, point out my accent, or correct my pronunciation, when I speak better than any, any foreigner, I know. And yet, they can still point out problems to me and make me feel less than in every conversation. And it's nothing against the Danes, because we see this happen in every society, and very much so in English as well.

Simon Kennell 12:07
Right. And so this is an because this is, ultimately what we hear all the time from clients is they're extremely, and you talk about this, you know, high quality high level professionals who are very, very competent in what they do. And they're experts in their field. And they come with the, the saying of, yeah, I the, I need to improve my confidence, my confidence isn't there. And that's ultimately is what that boils down to, is this kind of thing that they feel is holding them back. For us, when we hire teachers, we look for teachers that, you know, have experienced working internationally that have experienced, at least, if I mean, most of our teachers, I would say almost all of our teachers either speak a second language or are learning a second language. And that there is for I think it's important from from our hiring process to have that kind of emotional intelligence of what what that feels like that feeling of kind of being held back. Right? Do you feel like your experience in Denmark and living in other countries... Do you feel like that's helped you in writing Unmuted and forming these these principles that you have?

Heather Hansen 13:21
Absolutely, absolutely. Without a doubt, I think every language teachers should have learned other languages, it's very difficult to understand the perspective of a language learner, if you have not been through it yourself, it is a very, and I would say more than just you know, high school Spanish. Really going and living in a culture and navigating the world in a foreign language is very different than sitting in your foreign language classroom, and trying to learn a language and getting your A and thinking you've mastered it, you know, it's, then you go out in the real world, and yeah, it's all very, very different. And they don't sound like the CDs or now mp3 Is that you're listening to in class. And, and, and that is a big disconnect. So absolutely, I think it's so important to have that cross cultural knowledge to have the experience of living abroad to understand what real global communication is. Because it's not the same as English communication within the US or the UK, it's very different when we have, you know, people from all different cultures and backgrounds coming together to use English as a lingua franca as a common language. That's a very different type of conversation, then a bunch of Brits talking together or Americans or Canadians or Australians or whatever you want to talk about. And there are really stark differences there.

Paola Pascual 14:44
And that's a very good point and it's you're totally right, like you have your in classroom experience sometimes and then you go to an actual company, and then you realize, Wow, what what are they speaking and does my English work here? And and we had a question For you actually like, is there now such thing as a global English or even more so like Global Business English?

Heather Hansen 15:09
No, that's a short answer. No, and I don't think there ever will be. My personal opinion. And what I've lived and seen all over the world is that we are actually navigating the language we are compromising on meaning and we are creating and using the language in every single conversation, we are negotiating meaning in every conversation, and it could be someone from South Korea and Indonesia speaking together, the English that they use together will be very different from the English that I use with a Chinese speaker, or that the Chinese speaker uses with a German, for example. And in every single one of these conversations, we are negotiating meaning and using the language in a very special way. So I don't think there will ever be one global standard, you can't pick up a textbook and teach Global English, what we need to be focusing on a lot more now are our communicative competencies. So the skills and the people skills and the communication skills that we need to connect, to understand, to adapt and accommodate to each other's levels of English and vocabularies and cultural backgrounds. And that I think, especially for the higher level English speakers who are in global business, and you don't even have to be at, you know, C2 level we're talking about, from intermediate and above, because that's how people are using English in the global, you know, business community. And from intermediate and above, it's really, I think, much more important that you're looking at cross cultural skills, adaptation, accommodation, and that you know, how to connect with people. That's really the the biggest challenge, I think, when we move into the global sphere.

Simon Kennell 16:54
And you and so that kind of raises that next question, which I thought was really interesting from your TED talk that I picked up, which was about, you know, understanding, who is your audience, right, who are you communicating to? And that being such an important part of of of that, you know, like you said, it'll be different from a Korean and an Indonesian speaking English together than a Chinese and a Dane, for example. Right. And so when you're working with professionals, are you, are you having them take that into consideration when they're planning when they're planning presentations, when they're when they're doing these things? How do you kind of bring in that component into the training?

Heather Hansen 17:36
Yeah, it's always the first question I ask. It doesn't matter if someone is calling me and inquiring about coaching skills, or if we're in the middle of preparing for a presentation, the first question I ask is, who is your audience? Who are you communicating with on a regular basis? Not just level in the company? But really, where are these people from? And that's a huge question here in Singapore, because you could be in a company here, and you could have an American boss and a German colleague and a French colleague, and you could be on conference calls with people all over the EU. And then you could also be talking to Australia. And so here, we are so international, that every audience is different. And the techniques that you use and might need to consider when you're speaking to an American versus speaking to a Singaporean are very different. And you have to be prepared in a different way. So a lot of my clients who speak specifically with Western native English speakers, and I mean, this native non native is also a very difficult term, because I call most Singaporeans native speakers, but our textbooks certainly wouldn't call them that. So looking at the Western native speakers, the Americans or the Brits, it is going to be important for them to understand idioms, understand sports analogies, because those native speakers are going to throw them around without even thinking about it to use a great throw them around there. But we are not incredibly good at being culturally sensitive and aware of language level in the global community. And we assume that since we're all speaking English, it's my language. So I should be able to use it as I wish. Well, it doesn't work like that in global business. When you go into the global environment. It's no longer your language. This language is not owned by you anymore. It is being used in a very different way. And we have to know how to stop those urges to use the idioms, phrasal verbs and cultural analogies, sports analogies that are constant in our communication. We have to know how to change that. But for the speaker who's speaking to them, they're going to need to be prepared passively to understand that and to be able to communicate, and also know how to speak up how to interrupt if necessary in a polite way, how to hold their own at the table and demand the space they need and the time they need to speak There are so many special considerations, as well as the clarity of the speech in the articulation itself. What sounds do they need to make sure are clear so they aren't judged negatively in a global environment versus if the Singaporean speaks to another Singaporean, okay? Forget all of that use your normal Singapore English, don't have to worry about it at all. So but it all comes down to again, how you're being viewed and judged by your audience. And that's how you need to get very realistic about those biases. And the way people are looking at you when you are communicating, if that makes sense.

Paola Pascual 20:38
And I love when you said, you know, we've talked about this corporate jargon and the sports analogies and the jargon and the phrasal verbs. There's so so so common in Business English these days. And so we've heard you say that we should just get rid of them. Altogether, is that is that a bit what you were...?

Heather Hansen 20:56
I wish, I wish, I don't think it's ever going to happen. And every single English teacher I've ever met fights, they're like, We have to teach idioms. The students want idioms. They want to know, because we think if we know that idioms, then that makes us fluent. And it makes us really advanced speakers and, and it makes us seem like we're one of them, it all comes down to our need to want to belong. And idioms are a big part of that. But in a global setting in global business, why are you trying to learn something that you know, most people, most of your colleagues do not understand? Why are we trying to aspire to that and use that in global settings. I understand it if you're living in the UK, if you're living in the US. And the goal really is to belong in that closed, tight knit society. But if you are working globally, it does not help you to use phrases and idioms and cultural references that you know, over half your audience isn't going to understand because you didn't understand it yourself last week. So why are we why are we teaching that? Why are we considering that all the time? When people come to me and say I want to learn idioms? I say if they really insist, I say, Okay, I will teach you, but I never want to hear you use them. Like I'll teach you see, you can understand when people who are not being conscious in their communication speak to you, but I don't ever want to hear you using them yourself. Because I they, they don't help us. They don't help us in global communication.

Paola Pascual 22:26
You know, that's super interesting, because that's one of the requests we get. Yeah. And I all the time, I understand it like that when I learned German, well, German, I was not at that level. But the French, I really, really want it to know idioms, because I guess that's the way we communicate in our own language. And it's kind of funny, in a way, it allows you to say something without saying it. So I just see the importance of that. But I also totally agree with you in the fact that, you know, we should be as clear as possible, and to make it easier for everyone to make sure we don't have to repeat the same thing over again to avoid all this miscommunication. But until that happens, it's still used in the global business sphere. So what what would be your recommendation for non native English speakers? Like? Should you stay away from using idioms really, altogether? Or should you cave in and try to fit in and belong? As you said, I don't know there's always this...

Heather Hansen 23:30
Yeah, I always recommend go ahead and learn them for understanding reasons, but don't feel the need to use them in social settings that might be different. But for business settings, I am a real stickler for clarity. And I, I really believe you know, we should use words that are understood by the majority of people, we should be using terminology that is understood. And this isn't just in global settings, I mean, it should be in our own native English settings as well within in the US, we have so much of the technical jargon and people who try to use eloquent speech and vocabulary to somehow prove how intellectually superior they are to others. And where does that get you other than maybe intimidating people into not wanting to speak up because they don't feel like they can compete with you, or you're going over their head, they don't understand they can't be a part of the discussion. So for me, it's all about finding the connection with people and truly making that connection. And that's what that's probably my biggest tip to any non native speakers to focus on the connection and not perfection, the perfection and this idea that your grammar has to be perfect. You have to sound like that mp3 file of the Queen's English, which nobody speaks, by the way, I mean, 5 million people in the world. Why are you trying to model an accent that no one actually uses? Other than those 5 million I mean, that's it A very, very small, small percentage of the 2 billion English speakers in the world.

Simon Kennell 25:05
This is I'm kind of like in two different parts with this because you talked about with the reality of a lot of this bias, which there is that there is the reality is there a lot of this bias for a for a lot of our clients who think, yeah, you know, that sounds great. And I want to sound you know, like who I am, and I don't want to put this focus on Yeah, learning this, like, perfect American English style. But, you know, I work in this American company, and I get the feeling that, you know, if the more that I assimilate to this, and I work in with this bias and work with that, the, the better I'm going to, you know, have a way of it professionally. And for me standing there, you know, I think who am I, as a native English speaker to say, Yeah, but don't you know, like, just be yourself. So it's kind of like this struggle right with with these clients? How do we, how can we show that? You know, yeah, it, you can do that. But but the most important thing is to be yourself, because, ultimately, you know, ultimately, that's the that's the person that's going to progress, right?

Heather Hansen 26:23
Yeah. And you're absolutely right, this is what I call the hypocrisy of my entire business, is the fact that I have built a business based on the fact that this bias that I hate exists, if it was up to me, I would wipe out the bias, and I would be out of a job. But because this bias exists, and people feel that they have to conform and perfect, and as long as the world operates, the way it does, to a certain degree, they have to that is the reality. So it's this constant struggle between, yes, I'm going to teach you this because I know you will be pretty much discriminated against if you don't fix it. And yet, at the same time, I want to tell you, you shouldn't have to do this. It's this constant struggle, right? Like I know for a fact that the TH sound makes absolutely no difference in intelligibility throughout the world. You can pronounce it as an S, a Z, an F, a V, you can pronounce it however you like. Everyone will understand you every single time. But and the big, big, BUT is that doesn't mean they will accept you. Because I have heard native speakers in the audience sit and complain to us. Why can't that guy just say the properly I can't stand it, I can't even listen to him. I've heard stories from academics, professors at universities, researchers who go to industry conferences, and hear native speakers watch them walking out of talks, because they say, Oh, that guy's accent is so heavy, I can't even notice that I'm not even gonna listen to it - groundbreaking research that foreign academics are sharing. So the reality of the situation is, yes, this can make it or break it for you. And this is why this is why I've built the business I've built is based on the fact that this bias exists. But that's why I feel this moral responsibility, on the flip side of this coin, to talk about the things I talk about to write about linguistic bias to talk about bad English, which isn't bad at all. It's the real English it's being used in the world. And it is purely based on understanding and efficiency instead of perfection of the Queen's standards. And and so I think that's why because I feel exactly the same way as you, Simon. Exactly. And I've struggled with it for 15 years, in my business of how do I walk this line of preparing them for the reality of the world, but also educating the rest of the world that this isn't right, and they shouldn't be forced to do this. And this is why my first question is always, who are you speaking to? Where's your boss from? Who's Who sent you to talk to me? Where are they from? Because then I know immediately what the issue is and what they're having to live up to. And then we can try to balance that in some way. One thing I'm trying to do as well is to require that if you're going to send someone to me for work on clarity, or communication skills, then we are going to run a similar program for your leadership around accent bias, and how to better understand accents. So I've always been very much against this idea of accent reduction. And I say this in the TEDx as well, that we need to be focused on accent recognition. So if you're going to send someone to me, because you say you can't understand them, Well, then let's also give you some training and how to better understand them. And we'll give them some training and how to speak in a way that might be easier for you to understand. And you can meet in the middle because it's a two way street and we forget that in global business. And it's about time we need to change it but it's a slow moving process. Let me tell you, I've been talking about this over a decade. And and I every teacher that I meet Simon has exactly the same reaction you're having of but I want to prepare them And I want them to succeed. And yet, I agree with you that it shouldn't be this way. But we can't prepare them for like, the the beautiful rose colored glasses sort of to use an idiom, ideal of the world, we have to prepare them for the reality. So it is this constant struggle and battle and I face it every single day. I really do it. I really struggle with it.

Paola Pascual 30:25
It's it's hard. It's a hard topic. And as I said, it's it's interesting to meet in the middle not only because it's fair, but because it makes sense. And it's so scalable, right? Teaching native English speakers how to understand non native English speakers, it's, it's, it could be easier in a way and more productive than teaching millions and millions and millions of non native English speakers speak. Right?

Heather Hansen 30:49
Exactly. The math doesn't work, does it? It just yeah, it just makes more sense to me as well. And it's not even the native non native. It's about learning the accommodation skills and understanding how to better understand accents. You don't necessarily have to be a native speaker to say that accent's hard for me. And you know, it's just as hard for non native speakers to understand certain native accents. And even for me as an American, you know, I was in an Irish pub one day, and I had someone trying to strike up a conversation, and I swear he was speaking English. But it was so hard for me to understand. And I felt so awful. And he was so embarrassed. I'm like, No, this isn't your fault. You know, I'm in your country, I should be better at understanding you. And there's skills that we need to learn to tune our ears to understand how sounds work and the patterns in accents. And and I think that's a skill that we're all lacking in the global community, and one that would be really beneficial to learn from all sides.

Paola Pascual 31:47
I'm totally wit you. And so when I wonder if people listening will will think, you know, well, my accent is not great, or my English is not that great. And yes, I have to be myself. But I'm also aware of this linguistic bias. What can I do? Like you've created this great framework, right for your book, Unmuted. And if you could just super briefly tell us a little bit about it, and how we can help, you know, people listening at the moment?

Heather Hansen 32:19
well, the the whole goal behind unmuted was to take a much more holistic approach towards communications. So, you know, a lot of HR specialists will call me and say, oh, this person needs help with their communication skills, they need a language course, they need a presentation skills course, they need an email writing course. And we throw all this training at them, and then we leave and really nothing changes. Because usually training is not the issue. It's not necessarily a skills gap. There's a lot more to it. We so Unmuted is looking at how can we combine being conscious, confident and connected communicators. We need to look at self awareness, cross cultural skills, there's so much that goes into our communication, that conscious piece is huge. Then we have the confidence, which is self confidence, self worth, as well as skills, confidence. And then we have the connected piece of what is your environment like? And do you have good relationships? Do you have good people skills? Is there psychological safety? What are your relationships like in your business, and it's only when we look at all of those elements and put them together that we can truly be unmuted in our business, in our life, in our relationships and our families. If we feel that we have a safe space, and we're supported and connected, we know ourselves and we understand others, and then we have the confidence to speak up. So a very first step for anyone who's interested in learning more about this is they can take my Unmuted assessment, it's totally free. And they can start there to see where do they grade themselves. And this isn't just for non native speakers, this is for everyone. Because a lot of us native speakers tend to come up a little too high on the confidence scale, maybe a little bit lower on the consciousness in the global settings. So there's a lot we can all learn about balancing these three elements so that we aren't too loud. We aren't too soft, we aren't on mute, but we can actually press that unmute button and share our brilliance with the world. So I hope and encourage your listeners to to explore that that assessment, and possibly pick up the book that's out in just a few days.

Simon Kennell 34:17
There we go. Definitely. And that was the last thing we wanted to bring up. I mean, I definitely want to take this assessment, and I will, but just to, you know, just to end and to wrap up. When can we expect your book Unmuted? It's coming out this March, right?

Heather Hansen 34:36
Yes, it is. And just a few days, March 17. And you can also join us for the Unmuted Experience where we're going to have untold stories, unfiltered perspectives from a lot of speakers sharing their story and journey into how they were able to unmute in their lives and share their ideas with the world. And so I'm hoping that'll be a really inspiring session as well in honor of launching this book into the world. So that will be March 17. And you can find all this information at Heather

Simon Kennell 35:06
Great, great. And we'll also have it in the in the show notes as well. This was such a good conversation, and there's so many layers here that again, like, I feel like we could keep talking forever.

Heather Hansen 35:17
I know, I wish we could talk all day.

Simon Kennell 35:20
But, um, but no, Heather, I just personally want to say thank you, because I love what you're doing and walking that line. And, and yeah, I mean, there's so much global potential, you know, it's, it's sometimes it's silly to think that it's just this language thing that's holding us all back from from being able to really, really communicate and, and, and reach so many different things. So So that's it's so great that you're doing that. Thank you so much. Paola, any last words before we wrap up?

Paola Pascual 35:54
I'm just super happy to get to talk to you, Heather, you know, we connected on LinkedIn a few years back, and it's so great to you know, finally get to talk to you. I don't know if there's anything else you would like to say. But from my end, it's just a great, great, thank you.

Heather Hansen 36:10
Well, thank you for having me. It's been such a pleasure to have this chat with both of you. And, and they're really important concepts and ideas from both a learning and teaching perspective. So I just hope that everyone can find that courage to unmute themselves. And we can hear more of these global voices and, and change our world for the better.

Simon Kennell 36:30

Paola Pascual 36:31
Best of luck with your book!

Simon Kennell 36:34
Absolutely. Well, thank you to both you today. And Heather, thank you so much for joining us. That is going to end our episode today as well check out Heather Hanson on LinkedIn, the website, as well take the assessment, which I think will be really cool. But as always, that is it for us today and keep learning.


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Business English Podcast