Own your foreign accent… And don’t forget to pause

When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. Each move heralded life-changing transformations and experiences. Our first big move came with the Sandinista Revolution in the late 70s. Leaving Nicaragua and settling in Mexico City was the most exhilarating experience of my childhood.

And, as our new life began, I became aware that people immediately noticed I was different because of the way I spoke. It dawned on me for the first time: I had an accent.

A few years later, my family relocated to Miami. This was an even bigger shift. A country with a new language meant the need to develop a completely different set of skills. Growing up in a somewhat bilingual environment helped, but the accent was still there… This time, magnified exponentially.

These experiences taught me that an accent doesn’t necessarily mean your speech isn’t clear. What it does mean, is that once you learn a second language proficiently, it is crucial to polish your delivery by using the power of the pause.  When speaking a foreign language, pausing becomes an essential tool with clear benefits:

  1. Increased confidence. Individuals who pause effectively project greater confidence and executive presence, as they are often perceived as speakers who choose their words carefully and think before they speak.
  2. Clearer enunciation. Pausing enables you to reproduce sounds more carefully and precisely.
  3. Greater clarity. Few things are more frightening than drawing a blank in the middle of a sentence. Pause and give your brain a chance to come up with the right words.
  4. Superior fluidity. As counterintuitive as it may sound, pausing allows your brain to do its job: to connect words and create meaningful sentences, regardless of the language you are speaking.

An HBR article suggests that living abroad helps individuals develop a clearer sense of self. An extended stay in a foreign country gives us the unique gift of seeing ourselves from the perspective of others. The need to understand and be understood becomes a fundamental theme, because the way in which we are perceived transforms into the new DNA of our identity.

At Decker Communications, we work with numerous professionals who maneuver speaking a second language. Many of them believe their capacity and skill might be misjudged because of a foreign inflection in their speech.

Does this strike a chord with you?

Remember, a distinctive speech pattern does not mean your audience can’t connect with your ideas. Communicating effectively is about expressing your thoughts clearly and succinctly in the specific context of your listeners.

Next time you feel your accent is getting in the way, stop feeding the wolf: shift the focus toward your audience and away from you. Use the mighty pause—along with controlled pace, vocal variety, and listener-focused messages—to convey greater clarity to your listeners and showcase a sharper version of who you are.