“What Did You Say?” Here’s help for non-native English speakers targeting top US b-schools

The MBA Exchange has established strategic alliances with a number of service providers who complement our MBA admissions consulting work. We’re pleased to highlight the offerings and capabilities of these allies. Accent reduction coaching is a timely resource for consideration as you await the arrival of business school interview invitations.

As you prepare for admissions interviews, you’re likely to focus on the content and delivery of your responses. You’ll highlight your achievements, showcase your skills and experiences, and do everything possible to come across as dynamic, intelligent, and resourceful. However, if your first language isn’t American English, and you’re trying to get into an MBA program in the US, you may ruin your chances for admission without even knowing it.


“But I sound just fine … to myself”

Just because YOU know what you’re saying doesn’t mean that the interviewer will understand. Let’s look at a few real-life examples. Think about what the speaker meant when he or she said:

o “We’re excited about the release of the new virgin.”
o “We addressed that in the next face of the project.”
o “There was a big demon for the new product.”
o “I became the new precedent of our organization.”
o “It was a eunuch solution.”

These are just a few of the common mistakes that educated non-native speakers of American English make. Avoiding such mistakes and speaking with an American accent can help establish your credibility and even ensure that others feel they can trust you. In a study on foreign accents in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (June 2010), researchers recorded speakers with a variety of accents — Korean, Polish, Austrian, and Italian, among others — as well as native speakers with American accents.

They asked native American English speakers to decide whether or not the study participants were “telling the truth.” Even after telling the native speakers not to unfairly judge people based on accent alone, native speakers were still perceived as telling the truth more frequently than non-native speakers. (See https://psychology.uchicago.edu/people/faculty/LevAriKeysar.pdf]

So, what does this mean in terms of preparing for an MBA interview?
If you want to be viewed as credible, it’s essential that you avoid speaking in a way that others may not understand you the first time. If they have to ask, “What did you say?” they may doubt that you are telling the truth -– or they may simply misunderstand and not even request clarification. Furthermore, even if the interviewer understands you, he or she may fear that potential MBA classmates who don’t have an “ear for accents” could have difficulty knowing what you mean when you make comments in a b-school classroom or study group. Increasingly, admissions committees are using the admissions interview to screen applicants for this purpose.

These are risks to your candidacy that no MBA applicant should take -– especially when there’s an effective way to boost your skill level. With professional guidance and focused effort, you can make sure that the MBA admissions interviewer understands your strengths and sees your value (instead of wondering what you actually said.)

Potential benefits go far beyond your admissions interviews
Reducing your foreign accent is important before and after the admissions interview. In establishing relationships with business school students, alumni and administrators prior to submitting your application, you’ll want to convey the most professional image possible in all conversations. The same is true for interviewers with companies selecting MBA students for highly selective summer internships. In these situations, you have only one chance to make a great first impression! So, why not show them — in the very first conversation — that you’re a confident, capable speaker of American English?

What’s the next step?
As an optional extension to our Comprehensive Consultation for applicants, we can arrange accent reduction coaching for our interested clients. To request your free, no-obligation 15-minute evaluation and consultation, or just to learn more about these services, please contact The MBA Exchange.