For many British celebrity actors and presenters, their dream is to make it on the other side of the Atlantic and find success on the big US networks or even make it in the movies. Cracking the American market is always a challenge but even more so for stars whose British regional accents may be less intelligible to audiences in the US.
The BBC has recently highlighted the case of Cheryl Cole who is due to appear on the X Factor in the USA. She may look and act the part but if the American audience is unable to understand her comments to contestants she will not be successful. It is interesting that while the North East has been the chosen location for many British call centres due to the perceived attractiveness of the local accent, it is considered to be one of the more difficult British accents for American audiences to understand. Apparently, well known British TV presenters Ant and Dec needed interpreters during their short spell on US TV!
Nobody is suggesting that celebrities from the British regions should leave their local identity behind and attempt their own version of the ‘Queen’s English’. However, if they are set on global success, they need to consider how well their international audience will be able to understand them. It has been suggested that Cheryl Cole is taking lessons to improve the clarity of her speech, particularly her vowel sounds and vocabulary. Accent and speech training should not aim to eradicate Cheryl’s regional accent but should enable her to accommodate her accent to less familiar ears and help her to use other cues such as pacing, intonation, chunking and body language to help American viewers to understand her better.
It is just as true for business executives with strong regional accents as for glamorous celebrities that they may often need to moderate their natural speech when communicating with global counterparts. Talking on the phone to a worldwide customer base, presenting to potential clients in the US or managing a remote team all require speech patterns that are clear and easily understood. Many organisations invest in personalised speech and accent coaching or in training programmes to help when presenting to an international audience. This is not because they want to create a completely homogenous workforce who all speak with the same ‘received pronunciation’ but because they recognise the value of clear, intelligible communication that is easily understood by colleagues and counterparts around the world.