Uh, what did you say?

flower-PR“Uh, what did you say?” and blank stares from locals in Puerto Rico was the reaction I recieved when I tried to speak all but the most basic phrases in Spanish. It  was so frustrating! I certainly questioned my limited knowledge of the Spanish language. I was unable to successfully communicate even the basic phrases that I had learned especially for the trip. Things like, “Where is the bus stop?” or Where is the bathroom?” I was not happy.

No one, I mean no one understood me when I spoke Spanish! Why? I could not understand the problem. Finally, one day on the beach I meet Hannah, from Rincon Puerto Rico, and Jerry from New York City, both spoke fluent Spanish and English. I tried my Spanish with them. Hannah looked puzzled and said, “Uh, what did you say?” Jerry, on the other hand, seemed to understand a little. He repeated my phrase and then said, “Puerto Ricans speak extremely fast.” He spoke the same phrase in Spanish but much quicker stressing different syllables, and I repeated after him several times.  When Hannah returned from the water I tried it again. She said, “Oh that is what you’re saying!” She said, “We drop the endings on most of our words, so what you said sounded funny.”

My first experience receiving accent reduction lessons was a partly  successful because I had the opportunity to experience what it is like not to be understood because of an accent. I was motivated to practice because I wanted my daughter to see me trying. “After that experience, I found I was somewhat reluctant to speak Spanish. I had to force myself. I did not feel like a competent speaker even with the phrases I had practiced. I was less likely to speak, and I often tried to condense what I was saying.

Having a strong accent can prevent people from understanding, and can have a negative impact on the self-esteem of the speaker. In a work environment, this can be particularly harmful. However, having a reason such as wanting a promotion or needing to make a presentation can be the catalyst that results in seeking out further training.  This instruction can lead to improved intelligibility and increased confidence, and the outcome will be better relationships with employers and co- workers and being seen as a more qualified employee.

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