According to a recent article published by The Telegraph, language experiments conducted by psychologists show that mimicking a foreign accent is the easiest way to be understood when communicating with foreigners. The article takes the example of Steve McLaren, having been sacked from his job as England manager, McClaren now plies his trade in Europe where, having won the Dutch league with FC Twente, is now trying to repeat this success with FC Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga. During his time in Holland, McLaren seemed to pick up a Dutch accent while speaking English. Many British nationals who hear this new accent respond by raising their eyebrows and mocking smiles however some language specialists argue that consciously or not, he was making it easier for the Dutch to understand him.
The experiments conducted by Manchester University and Holland’s Radboud University have proven that we tend to naturally mimic foreign counterpart’s accent when communicating with them. Researchers put Dutch students in conversational situations with foreigners who all spoke the same language but with different or unusual accents. Some of the foreign participants would use very strong regional accents while others created new accents with strange vowel pronunciation. Half of the Dutch students were asked to mimic these accents while the remaining students were asked not to.
The results show clearly that the students imitating the accents were more easily understood by the foreigners than those who were not imitating them. Researchers also observed that mimicking the accent subconsciously helped participants to also imitate the non-verbal communication they used such as body posture, silence phases or gestures. By using the same non-verbal cues and signals, communication can become much more effective even when the verbal language used is not always understood.
Dr Patti Adank, one of the researchers involved in the programme, calimed that when two people are talking they tend to subconsciously adapt their communication style towards the other person. She suggested the human brain uses this strategy to improve communication. While the use of a common language (usually English) remains necessary, this research shows that effective communication between different cultures is possible with a little adaptation of accent or non-verbal cues.
It’s definitely possible that being able to recognise and imitate a foreign accent will help to improve understanding between people who do not speak the same language however learning the language will have the most effective impact. Participating in a language training course is essential to learning the vocabulary and grammar required to create a common ground between you and your foreign counterparts. Being able to communicate with your foreign counterparts in a foreign language will give you much better results than just imitating their accent where misunderstandings and offence in some cases can occur. Language training courses are the most effective way to ensure communication with your foreign counterparts is clear.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010