Thoughts on the “music” of English and the “art” of the sale

Music of English & art of the sale

With so much out there on the internet these days, it can be harder and harder to get your voice heard selling in the world of interaction with real live people.

So, more than ever, it’s about building relationships, listening, connecting.

But while it’s important to be able to listen, it’s also important to draw people in.

And sometimes, when the pronunciation, rhythm and intonation get in the way, it’s harder to connect.

Of course, when certain vowels or consonants are incorrectly pronounced, it can cause confusion. And when the listener stops listening to figure out just what was said, speaker and listener go out of sync.

The fact is we may not have 20 minutes or half an hour for the listener to adjust. The brain has already done a backflip, and it takes a moment for the listener to get back to the present. In that moment, we can lose the sale.

So the fact is we do need to correct some of the sounds that are causing confusion in the important words. But it’s never every sound.

There was a study done some years ago on by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who found that listeners judge the emotional content of speech, first by the speaker’s body language (55%), then 38% on “vocal qualities” – not words, but tone of the voice, the pitch and the pace of the delivery. It’s not about the words.

In any case, anglophones just listen for important words, the ones that provide meaning. We fill in the rest from context. So we need the clarity of important words to make sure we understand them the first time.

But the rhythm, the intonation, the dynamics all help us to understand what we need to focus on and what you want us to feel. When we know how and what syllables or words to stress, we’re guiding and motivating our listener.

English is constantly moving up and down staircases. If we want to emphasize an idea, the voice will rise in pitch, in volume. We’ll hold a note –– maybe just a word, maybe just one syllable –– but we’ll make it just a little higher, a little louder and a little longer.  We’ll speak a little faster. Then get a little slower. We’ll pause for a moment to let the thought sink in.  We’re guiding the listening saying, “Listen to this. This is important.”

We can listen to music that has no words at all. Yet it can motivate us to feel. In fact, it can evoke powerful emotions. The “music” of English works exactly the same way.

We anglophones are lazy speakers, so English is a language of reductions. If something’s too hard to say, we change it. So what you see on the page often has little to do with the way we say it. But that “short-form” English can spark the imagination with its rhythm and melody. It works on our emotions, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about psychology.

And the “art” of the sale is about psychology.

It’s about trying to enter into the mind of the prospective customer to make the listener feel as comfortable as possible. But to make that sale, the salesperson too, has be comfortable. If the customer and client are totally in sync, great. Why bother to make any changes?

But, often, I find that people are hesitant to make changes – as if incorporating more of the Canadian accent (standard North American accent) would destroy a sense of identity.

The thing is … our accents (and we all have an accent) are a beautiful part of who we are. And making some changes isn’t the same as erasing our identity.

People respond to music. And the music of the Canadian English language can help communicate, negotiate and motivate.

In the long run, we’re not just selling a product or a service. We’re selling who we are. We’re saying, “I care about you. Trust me. Listen to me. I have something of value for you.”

The “music” of English and the “art” of the sale have a powerful connection.

Your own thoughts are most welcome.

And don’t forget to check out the latest word-of-the week at One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach channel.

Thoughts on “Identity” and Accent Modification

sitting on the fence questionThe other day there was a client in one of my group classes who made the most interesting observation. This person was, as are most of my clients, a very advanced speaker of ESL. She had been in English-speaking countries for the last ten years and was picking up the sounds of vowels and consonants very quickly. But finding the “music” of English was particularly challenging: the idea of linking consonants and vowels from syllable to syllable to find a flowing rhythm, and changing pitch to find melodies that express meaning more readily.  There was also some resistance to what I call “short-form” English, the spoken expressions that we native English speakers use all the time but which have almost nothing to do with written English (e.g., wanna, gonna, gotta, hafta).

There were two issues that came up, both equally important.

The first was political. In my client’s native country, there are two large populations with different languages. When speaking the language of the majority population with the accent of the majority population, her own community judged her harshly. They wanted and expected a more guttural sound in keeping with the native language of her community.

In learning to speak the English language, she had absorbed the “shame” of her community’s judgment – the implication that speaking a language other than your own with the accent of the native speaker was, perhaps the gentle word is, a “sellout.”

The second,  which I’ve sometimes heard from other clients, was that she felt that by imitating our “short-form” spoken English, using expressions like “wanna,” “gotta,” “gonna,” etc., she was just being “fake.”

These are interesting and sensitive challenges. When she recognized that there was “shame” involved in making changes to her accent, she felt a great sense of relief and freedom. And yet the general sense that absorbing the “music” of English to sound more like a native speaker could cause her to lose her identify was a different story.  This part was not about the intensity of shame, but more about the fear of losing a part of yourself, your roots.

So the question is “Do we really lose our identity when we choose, consciously or unconsciously, to incorporate the sounds of the vernacular of our adopted country?” Must identity be tied to accent or is identity something internal – something felt – a deep love of one’s native country,  native culture.

I would really love to hear from speakers of English as a Second Language on this.

Meanwhile, check out the Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel at One-Minute Words for the web series One-Minute Words and other videos on pronunciation.