Indian English Speakers: 5 Reasons Americans Don’t Understand You
Do you find it frustrating that Americans don’t understand you when you speak English?
That’s how Ramit felt when he was promoted from his role as a senior developer to client facing manager.
Ramit was an articulate guy, with a decent command of English. He never had communication problems when he led his development team.
But when Ramit started to communicate with clients about their enterprise software requirements, he quickly realized that the clients didn’t always understand him.
His clients didn’t understand him
Ramit’s clients always asked him to repeat himself during phone calls.
At meetings it was often the same. Or worse, the clients looked at him with their eyes glazed over.
Not a good sign!
Obviously, something about Ramit’s speech was causing breakdowns in communication.
One night after a very unproductive and frustrating conversation with his senior manager, (the clients were complaining) Ramit started googling to find an answer to his communication problems.
Indian English speakers
Ramit was ready to take responsibility for his communication challenges. But he wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing wrong.
So he started googling.
That’s found one of my blog posts about communication tips for Indian English speakers.
He read the post, just as you’re doing now.
And when he read about syllable stress, Ramit had an “aha” moment. He realized that he was not using syllable stress correctly.
How could he?
No one taught about syllable stress back in in India. He didn’t even know what it was.
Ramit contacted me to find out exactly how he could learn to use syllable stress to speak clearly with his clients.
Since Ramit he was an enterprise IT consultant, I recommended that he try my online course, American Accent Training for IT Professionals.
Ramit went ahead and took the course. You can see more about that below.
He told me that the rules he learned in the course totally changed the way he looked at American English.
Once he started to apply the rules he learned in the course, especially the rules for
- syllable stress
- speaking pace
- the American T sounds
Ramit began to speak in a way that his clients understood
Work was easier and more productive
Ramit wasn’t a perfect speaker, but people were not constantly asking him to repeat himself.
He was getting his message across more quickly.
And he knew exactly how to correct himself when breakdowns did occur.
As as accent reduction coach, I’ve had the opportunity to help hundreds of Indian born professionals speak in a way that Americans understand.
Based on these experiences, I want to tell you the top 5 reasons Americans don’t understand you when you speak.
I’ve listed these in order of importance.
The 5 top reasons Americans don’t understand Indian English
- You don’t use American English syllable stress patterns correctly.
- You speak too quickly and without pauses.
- You don’t use the American T sounds.
- You don’t use the correct sounds for the letter A.
- You don’t articulate clear W & TH sounds.
Let’s examine each of the 5 features listed above in more detail.
1. American English syllable stress patterns
The top reason Americans don’t understand Indian accented English is because you say words using the wrong syllable stress.
Two common examples are the words development and alternative.
When you say these words, you stress the wrong part of the word. You say develOPment. You say alterNAtive.
Americans put stress on a different syllable. We say deVELopment. We say alTERnative.
Listen to the difference
When you stress syllables differently than Americans do, we get very confused.
We struggle to decode your words.
Learning to use syllable stress correctly is the best way for Indian English speakers to make positive, noticeable changes to the way you speak American English.
Trust me on this!
2. Fast speech
Ask your average American what they think about Indian accent and they say;
“I can’t understand Indians because they speak way too fast. I can never keep up with what they’re saying.”
One reason that Indians speak too quickly for Americans has to do with pauses.
Indian English speakers don’t use sufficient pauses when they speak. They don’t pause after each phrase. They barely pause at the end of a sentence.
We Americans want to say; “slow down so that I can understand you!” But we don’t say that, because we’re too polite.
In order to speak with a pace that Americans can easily understand you need to speak using:
- shorter phrases
- short pauses
Americans want to understand you!
But if your speaking pace is too fast, our eyes will glaze over. We’ll check out and give up.
3. American T sounds
You Indians learned a more British variety of English. And British English uses lots of aspirated T sounds.
American T sounds are quite different.
- Sometimes our T sounds like a D.
- Sometimes our T is held in the throat.
- Sometimes our T is completely silent.
The American T sounds are super easy to learn, and they make your speech sound more fluid and familiar to Americans.
4. The sounds of the letter A
Indians use a different A sound than Americans when saying words such as:
Once you learn to use the correct A sound, your words will be a lot easier for Americans to understand.
5. The W & TH sounds
Okay, we’re finally getting to the W & Th sounds.
These are the sounds that everyone on YouTube is telling you to fix, right?
You will want to improve your articulation of the W & Th sounds.
But, given the importance of syllable stress and speaking pace, I don’t believe these sounds should be your top priority.
American English and Indian English are different
When you learned to speak English back in India, you learned a different type of English than we speak in North America. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, I love this quote from aerospace engineer SK Gupta
“If some of you detect an accent, please remember that I didn’t have one until I came to this country.”
That said, if you want to communicate clearly and easily with Americans, many of you will want to make some changes to the way you speak.
I can show you how
If you use my top 5 reasons as your guide you’ll have a clear framework for improving the way you speak American English
But here’s the thing, even when you know what features of American English you need to work on, it’s challenging to organize lessons on your own.
That’s why I created an online course called American Accent Training for IT Professionals.
The lessons in this course are taken directly from my experiences as an accent reduction coach for Indian professionals.
That means that the lessons are customized to solve the communication challenges of Indian IT professionals who work with North American clients.
If you’re an Indian English speaker who needs to communicate clearly with Americans, click on the link above to take a free trial lesson.
This course will teach you how speak American English in a way that your colleagues will respect and understand!
About the author
Susan Ryan is an American English communication and accent reduction coach.
Contact her with your questions about clear American speech.