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How to understand different English accents

It can be very challenging to understand dialects or accents you’re not used to. Anna Zharkova, Lead Language Trainer, shares four useful tips to help you get accustomed to accents at work and make communication much easier.

Lead Language Trainer Anna Zharkova

— Working on an international team can be exciting — new cultures, languages, and ways of expression are all around you. But it can also be difficult, especially when you are at a loss for how to respectfully seek clarification and learn to listen to colleagues or clients with different accents. Even if you’re technically speaking the same language, working with people with dialects or accents you’re not used to can be very challenging.

Discover your English level

So how do you break this same-language barrier? Read about four easy to follow tips on how to get accustomed to accents at work and facilitate communication.

4 tips to understand different English accents

1. Learn about the typical features of the accent you struggle with.

These can be, for example, changing or disappearing sounds. There are lots of YouTube videos that sum up different accent features, like this one about American English.

More examples:

2. Find videos or recordings of speakers with the accent you find difficult.

Choose speakers who have a noticeable accent, otherwise, there won’t be enough features to practice with. Select 2-3 speakers to avoid fixation on individual peculiarities and to recognize common accent features. Make sure the materials you use have subtitles or a script. Avoid automatically generated subtitles as they may be inaccurate and confusing.

A user-friendly alternative to YouTube is ted.com where all talks have high-quality scripts and subtitles.

3. Listen to short extracts (1-2 minutes) without subtitles.

Play them phrase by phrase and try to catch every word. Replay difficult bits and use subtitles to check yourself and analyze what was hard to catch.

4. Get exposure to the accent.

Listen to longer extracts without focusing on each word. Sum up the main idea in 2-3 sentences. Then ask ChatGPT to sum up the script in 3 sentences and compare your summary to the one provided by the AI. It's OK if the wording of your summary is different. Focus on ideas.

How ChatGPT can help you learn English

Conclusion

— With these self-study tips, you can work individually at your own pace to achieve your personal goals in understanding English accents.

Remember, don’t be shy or embarrassed when you’re getting used to a different language or accent. Being proactive about learning will show that you’re professional, and being confident will help create a bond with the people you work with.