Why I Took the Accent Reduction Training

by Preetham Gowda

About a year ago, I started some professional training that surprised some of my Indian friends and colleagues. I started working with a coach, Judy Tobe of Claro Accent Reduction, to help me speak English with more of a neutral accent

I was born and raised in Bangalore, and I have been studying English since I was a kid. I also speak the mother tongue, Kannada.

In 2003, when I was 21 years old, I moved to the United States to earn a master’s degree in computer science from Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Three years later, I moved to Pittsburgh to accept a job with Ciber as a software engineer. In 2009, I started working at TeleTracking Technologies, a health care software company that employs about 170 people.

I work as a project manager. I manage software projects. I plan the project out, I decide what resources we need to procure, break down the project into smaller tasks, assign those tasks to other developers, and monitor progress. I make sure all the developers are doing what they are supposed to do. I manage a team of 20 people and about 40% are native English speakers. The others moved her from India, Mexico and Europe. In my role as a manager I interact with the rest of the company as well – and 100 percent of these employees are native speakers.

In Indian English, the stress on the words is on different syllables and this can make it difficult for a native English speaker to understand.

When I spelled my name on the phone, I used to have to say “P for Paris, R for Richard,” and so on. Sometimes when I spoke, people would say, “What? Can you please repeat it?”

I thought to myself, “I have to improve my speaking.”

A lot of people with a thick accent may not want to acknowledge that this is a problem, or feel that to change it would somehow not be true to their native culture. But for me, I thought it was a part of my communication. When you speak to people they should be able to understand you easily, especially if you are making a career in this country.

In a professional setting too, an accent can be seen as a handicap, and you have to find a way to overcome it. However, there is only so much you can overcome on your own.

In my job as a manager, I have to interact with managers from other companies and other teams. I cannot expect to do my job while speaking with an accent so strong that other people can’t understand very easily—it’s not possible.

I decided to look for professional help on this matter.I had seen a flier promoting accent reduction workshops, led by Judy Tobe, the principal of Claro Accent Reduction. I looked her up online and gave her a call.

Judy has been a speech pathologist for almost 30 years, helping people with communication. Using web-based meetings, she helps people all over the world who want to speak English with an American accent. She specializes in helping people with Indian accents and a big part of her clientele is Indian.

We did a one-hour assessment of my speech and she gave me some pointers based on the areas for improvement. Later, in April 2010, I called her back and said I wanted to work with her. We scheduled weekly sessions and she tried to help me with my pronunciation.

We started by meeting face-to-face for nearly four months. We met every Tuesday for the a few months. After that, we moved our meetings to Skype and continued our meetings on the internet. We still meet once a month online.

I am very happy with the results. I have noticed that the number of times people say “what?” to me has decreased.

Some of my friends knew I was getting help form Judy and they said “I notice that your ‘w’ and ‘th’ are different now.”

Same with the “r” sound. It is still a still a little rough but it’s better.

I no longer need to spell my name phonetically over the phone.

In December, Judy and I were featured in a Post-Gazette article. It ran on the front page of the Sunday Business section, and I received positive feedback from many people who saw it.

Some may wonder how much these sessions cost. This will cost you a fraction of what you would spend on college.

If anyone asked me about this training, I would recommend it. I think it’s very important to speak English with more of a neutral accent, especially if you want to make a career in this country.

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