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Challenges of English Pronunciation for Chinese Speakers

Posted by Nara Venditti on May 15, 2011

 There are many Chinese dialects, Northern Chinese, or Mandarin, being the native tongue of 70% Chinese speakers. When speaking English, some mistakes are common to many Chinese speakers, however, they vary by region. For example, people from Liaoning or Shanong provinces may have different problems from Fujian or Guangdong provinces. What are the differences between Mandarin Chinese and English? The most notable difference is what role pitch (or musical intonation) plays in both languages. Pitch (musical intonation or tone) has different roles in English and Chinese. • In English, pitch is used to express emotion or used for emphasis. Often many Chinese speakers lack natural English language music and adopt monotone intonation. • In Chinese, pitch will change word meaning. A good example is the word “ma” which has three different meanings depending on the tone. Chinese speakers may have the following top pronunciation challenges • Difficulty distinguishing and pronouncing the N sound. For instance, “nice” may be pronounced as “lice”, • Difficulty distinguishing and pronouncing the R sound, “surprise” may be pronounced as “supplies” • Tendency to omit final consonant or substitute it with a vowel. Because many Chinese characters start with a consonant and end with vowels or a nasal sound /n/ or /ng/, Chinese speakers often omit final consonants or substitute it with a vowel, For instance, “tell him” may become “teo him,” “about” – “abou”. • Chinese speakers often pronounce /R/” as /W/ at the beginning or middle of the word. For instance, “row” may become “wow” and “grow” – “gwow”.



Using and Understanding “CAN” and “CAN’T in Conversational English

Posted by Nara Venditti on December 3, 2010

In the English language, there are words and expressions that are used more often than others. While the subtleties of how they are used can be confusing for non-native speakers of English, recognizing and using them properly will help improve conversational English – due to their higher frequency of usage in spoken English.

Two such words are “can” and “can’t”.  These words have opposite meaning and are often interchanged because they may sound the same to a foreigner’s ear  Non-native speakers tend to reduce the vowel in “can” and omit the “t” in “can’t”.  Misunderstanding and misusing them may create havoc in business.

I will illustrate using a few examples:

CAN:  What a baby can do? A baby can cry.  A baby can eat.  In these two sentences, CAN is used along with a verb (cry and eat).  Here “can” is pronounced as [kən] or [kn].  In other words the “a” sound [æ] is reduced. 

However, in some cases [æ] is not reduced:

  1. When CAN is the last word in a sentence: E.g., Yes I CAN – [kæn], or:I will do it as soon as I CAN.
  2. When used as negative, both in full – CANNOT and abbreviated – CAN’T.  E.g., You CANNOT or CAN’T use the pool after 9 PM.
  3. When it is stressed, or emphasized. E.g.,  I will prove to you that I CAN run a marathon.


CAN’T:  A baby “CAN’T” speak or A baby “CAN’T”walk. A non-native speaker may not distinguish this subtle difference and this may sound much like “CAN” [kæn].

TIP:  To be 100% sure

1)  Ask to clarify – Do you mean “CAN” or “CANNOT?

2)  Use the full word – To express negative, say – I  “CANNOT”.

Practice: read aloud the sample sentences listed in this article a few times until you get it right.

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How to Help Cultural Minorities Advance

Posted by Nara Venditti on August 11, 2010

Question:  Why is it important to promote multicultural employees?

 Answer: One big reason—shifting demographics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities—which made up roughly one-third of the U.S. population in 2008—are expected to become the majority in 2042. Moreover, by 2030, nearly one-in-five U.S. residents is expected to be 65 or older.

 As the demographic makeup of the U.S. population continues to shift, organizations will need to tailor their recruitment, retention, promotion and succession planning practices to meet the needs of the available workforce in order to maintain their competitiveness in the future.

 Yet it is not solely up to employers—employees and employers have a stake in the success of multicultural employees.

 Multicultural employees who are interested in advancing their careers should seek the answers to questions such as: What are my shortfalls? Why haven’t I been promoted? Why isn’t my voice heard and what can I do to change this? If an employee is not willing to put in hard work, he or she is not good material for transformation and growth.

 Yet, it is important to realize that it is more effective to influence people if you act within the confines of their culture. As author Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” If organizations fail to build awareness of cultural and language differences and do nothing to encourage managers to be inclusive, little progress will be made.

 Therefore, to prepare high-potential minorities for management and leadership roles, organizations should:

      *Seek opportunities to talk about the organization and its industry with students at local high schools. Interested employees can volunteer to teach students about self-marketing, building a personal brand, interpersonal skills and networking.

     *Tailor orientation programs for diverse new hires. Set expectations by explaining that participation in company-sponsored training does not guarantee a promotion. Invite career development experts who have knowledge of the multicultural workforce as well as other diverse executives to share their experiences for inspiration and motivational purposes.

     *Create career management courses that are tailored to the cultural and linguistic needs of culturally diverse employees, including individual coaching sessions, if necessary. Pay special attention to soft skills as well as cultural and behavioral differences, make sure that career development activities are mandatory, and note progress toward career goals during performance reviews.

     *Provide opportunities for outside training and education including books and other self-study resources.

  • Encourage employees to tap into experienced executives as mentors and sponsors. Emphasize the importance of networking to find people who have a personal stake in an individual’s success. Provide opportunities to build relationships. 
  • Encourage participation in company volunteer projects and membership and involvement in organizations relevant to their industry, profession and career development needs.
  • Provide frequent feedback to culturally diverse employees rather than waiting for an annual or semiannual review.

 As the economy and the job market improve, organizations will seek, and rely on, increasing numbers of talented minorities. HR’s role will continue to evolve as a strategic partner in helping companies to recruit, retain and promote high-potential multicultural employees.

 Author Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is the founder www./   a Conn.-based cross-cultural consulting firm specializing in multicultural and foreign-born employee development and cultural competence. She can be reached at (203)791-1107 or

Posted in Employment Careers Recruitment | Leave a Comment »

Five Essential Tips For Effective Virtual Meetings Across Cultures – Part I

Posted by Nara Venditti on June 22, 2010

Over the years, I have taken part in numerous virtual meetings with teams operating nationally and globally. In teaching of business management courses, I have noticed that many of the textbooks on this subject do not provide information on effectively operating in virtual teams. Of course, virtual meetings offer clear advantage: they save companies time and money for travel, they can be called at a relatively short notice. Yet, as our business world becomes more and more technology oriented this is important information that employees and managers must have.

In part I, I will outline a few crucial tips that I have learned over the years that will increase the effectiveness of virtual communication for homogeneous and global teams consisting of multicultural employees. I will mark tips especially for multicultural teams with asterisk.

1. First, try to meet face-to-face – to introduce team members to each other. To build strong relationship, there is nothing better than face-to-face interaction. Then utilize on-line video conferencing services for better logistics and professionalism.

2. Distribute agendas in advance. Try to keep agenda short and manageable, not more than three to five items. Allocate time to each item. Ask the participants for their input.

3. Select a responsible meeting recorder for distribution notes afterwards.  Always follow up with written notes and action steps.

4. In your e-mail pre- and post- communication, the generously use of words like “please” and “thank you” for courtesy and respect. Since tone of voice and facial expressions are not transmitted in your written communication, these simple words can work miracles. *Better yet, use “thank you” in the language of the participants. Do not be afraid to transliterate in English, no matter how funny it may look or sound, your effort will be appreciated. (See a link to a list to “thank you in 26 languages at the end of this article)

5. Leave a phone message when following up on your request or announcement. A smile while speaking will not be seen but can be conveyed in your message. By doing this you’re your voice will be recognized next time you talk and bond faster at the actual meeting.

This was Part I. In Part II, we will outline a few more tips, including specific language and communication tips that will make your virtual tips more productive and effective. Connect with international meeting participants, use thank you in their native language. Download the list of “thank you” translations and pronunciations in 26 languages

Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, cultural diversity, cross-cultural communication and business English and a frequent presenter at Conferences, Companies and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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Educate – Don’t Sell: Cultural Differences and Learning Styles

Posted by Nara Venditti on April 2, 2010

Dr. Nara Venditti

Every professional needs to have a little teacher in them. I believe that one of the best ways to persuade and  influence people or market your product or service is by educating.  Educating your customers on the value of your offerings demonstrates your knowledge and expertise and will build credibility and promote long-term, trusting relationships. In any industry, be it education when teacher needs to persuade their students on importance of their subject, in healthcare, when a doctor or a nurse needs to gain patient’s buy in into the treatment, and in just about  in any other industry educating your customers on your offerings and ideas will build your credibility, trust and long-term relationships.

This especially applies to multicultural customers because they are more likely to be unfamiliar with many products and services and how things are done in the US. Yet, learning styles vary across cultures.

Although there are individual differences, consider two studies that indicate generally most cultures can be grouped by how information is absorbed.  One study shows that Hispanics prefer hands-on (kinesthetic) learning. They prefer group activities and better grasp the benefits of a product or a service when they can try it. They also prefer the use of illustrations, graphs and drawings over listening. While another study of academic achievements of international students in the US, showed that Asians tend to be more visual, probably due to the hieroglyphic nature of Asian languages. Both cultures tend to perform worse when the instruction is primarily verbal.  However, verbal instruction is just about the most common in the US and, often than not, sales presentations are delivered verbally. We can see why this may not work well for multicultural customers.  Add here language differences and you will see how effectiveness of educational marketing may suffer.

So, for better results know the learning preferences of the culture you are interacting with. Also, remember that some people may have a mix of learning styles and display a certain learning style that may change depending on situation.

However, as is often the case, what to do when dealing with mixed cultural groups such as in the classroom or in some workplace situations?  Simply use multimodal presentation, employing oral explanation, written materials, images and hands-on activities if possible.

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How to Build Rapport with Multicultural Clients

Posted by Nara Venditti on February 18, 2010

Do you want to expand your customer base and increase revenue? QUIZ: How many of you know that one in five in the US speak a foreign language at home or that 70% of the economic growth in the US is due to minorities? When teaching a workshop on multicultural marketing, typical all hands will go up at the first question and only some at the second question. Yet seldom a hand will go up when I ask if participants know how to go about building rapport with multicultural clientele.

Mastering how to develop strong, lasting, and profitable relationships across cultures in the community may be as easy as remembering an acronym N.A.R.A.

Never Assume – Never assume that all clients are like you or that one size fits all. We tend to think that our way is the best way. However, this is not the case. For instance, for one culture making eye contact could be a sign of respect but for another culture avoiding eye contact shows respect. In another example, n many Asian and South American cultures looking down while addressing a customer shows respect while other cultures would consider this to be rude. 

Ask  – Always ask for their preferences. Our most common behaviors may not apply to all cultures. Rather, as a way of showing respect and gaining confidence, discuss their practices and preferences. For instance, ask questions like,  “Would you like to be addressed by your first name or last name?”,  “Should I extend my hand first to shake a woman’s hand?”,  “ Is it appropriate to ask about the customer’s health or family?”, “Should I embrace, bow or shake hands when greeting the customer?”

Relate– Try to relate on many levels. Americans tend to follow the principle “Let’s get down to business” while for other cultures “Let’s get to know each other first” would be more appropriate. A great relationship builder is to use basic phrases  in LingioClick$™. For instance try saying “shen-shen”(thank  in Chinese), “gracias” (thank you in Spanish) or “shukria” (thank you in the Indian languages) and you will see how your customers’ eyes light up! They may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. And, as with most consumers, more often than not our emotions shape our decisions.

Ask the expert – Learn about the cultural norms and values of the immigrant communities in your area by attending ethnic festivals, meeting your potential customers and their leaders face-to-face. Read literature, attend a seminar or organize a workshop. Also try building relationships on their turf and then invite them to your place of business. While we are not expected to be experts in every culture in the world, we should be aware of important issues pertaining to demographics that we want to do business with.

I have outlined a framework for building relationships and rapport across cultures. While it may seem simple, the devil is in details. Keep in mind that cultural competence is not a destination, it is a journey and that those who pay attention to the details will succeed.

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Behavioral vs Skill Tests

Posted by Nara Venditti on February 1, 2010

Recruiters need to keep in mind that behavioral interviews may be misleading when dealing with multicultural candidates, especially those who interview for certain categories of jobs in entry level or technical positions.

In the US, much emphasis is placed on performance during behavioral interview phase of hiring process. When determining who is the best candidate for the position, sometimes in the US we are getting too carried away with the significance of the results of the behavioral interview.

However, behavioral interviews are pretty much prepared answers, and they very often indicate candidates’ ability to self-promote rather than do the  job.

Describing past experiences and accomplishments may be very challenging for the candidates from high context cultures (e.g. Asia, Latin America).  Self-promotion is not appreciated in many parts of the world.  When we look for the best candidates regardless of his or hers background we need to keep that in mind.

In my opinion, skill tests are much more objective particularly when we are dealing with foreign-born candidates.

Note: link to YouTube

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Excellent Customer Service with CLEAR Formula – Part I

Posted by Nara Venditti on November 9, 2009

World-class customer service undermines a company’s long term survival, especially in today’s service oriented economy. Not surprisingly, a study by The Forum Corporation showed that 65% of customers switch providers because of inferior quality of customer service. A company may have excellent products and a well trained technical staff but if it fails to provide more than adequate customer service, it may not sustain its business. Each phone call, e-mail or face-to-face interaction that frontline employees have with customers presents an opportunity to reinforce a positive company image. However, the basic interpersonal skills to achieve this are not typically taught in school and academic life offers little opportunity for the art of dealing with people. During my many years of working in the customer service field I found that teaching CLEAR™ approach helps improve soft skills. C – Communicate L – Listen E – Empathize A – Ask R – build Relationships In the Part I we will cover the first letter “C” that stands for Communicate. Words are powerful tools that affect and determine the outcome of the business dialogue. They can trigger positive or negative feelings. In business, the words we speak (verbal communication) are one component of communication. Separate from technical substance, courtesy and understanding are crucial to good customer service. The service professional that can use words appropriately will have a clear advantage in the service interaction. A simple “Is there anything else I can help you with?” will be music to the customer’s ear when asked at the right time during the service transaction. Non-verbal cues encountered in face-to-face situations are another component of communication that can be more revealing than what is said. Body language can often convey confidence and sentiments to the attentive reader more so than words. Some of the more obvious cues in non-verbal communication are the smile, eye contact, hand shaking, personal distance and physical contact. For instance, in the US, an acceptable distance between conversing individuals is between one and a half to two feet. Less can trigger discomfort and anxiety and distracts from the subject. Except for the British, Europeans tend to stand closer while engaged in conversation. A good acceptable distance in Japan is about four feet. The essence of \ non-verbals vary across cultures and your service professionals need to be aware of them. Learning to recognize, interpret and react to body language cues becomes a powerful advantage. Stay tuned for Part II, and in the meantime do not forget to practice the “C” letter principle when communicating with your customers.

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The Naming Game

Posted by Nara Venditti on November 9, 2009

Names are an important element on the platform of human relationships. Correctly pronouncing your student’s or colleague’s name goes a long way towards earning the individual’s respect and trust.  This could be a challenge, however, when you’re up against a name like Javarkharlal. It is always appropriate to ask “Am I pronouncing it right?”  Then repeat the name a few times so that your mouth and tongue could practice the unusual sounds and combination of sounds.

When dealing with multicultural students, customers, or colleagues, it is helpful to keep these points in mind:

1. Naming tradition differs across cultures.  For instance, in some cultures, person’s last name comes before the given name. In my own country of origin, Armenia, I would be Venditti Nara, rather than Nara Venditti. Or, suppose you greet Hong Genfu from China as Mr. Genfu. That may be the same as addressing Bob Johnson as Mr. Bob

2. It is not always easy to distinguish which is the first name or which is last. We may greet Harlan Henry from the Caribbean, as Henry because it is the more common first name in the US.

 3. Hispanic names usually include both mother’s and father’s family names.     It is father’s name that is used in addressing the person.

To learn more about addressing etiquette across cultures, read my article  at

Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, global diversity and business English and a frequent presenter at Conferences, Companies and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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In the Workplace Take Humor Seriously

Posted by Nara Venditti on November 9, 2009

We all know that humor is good for you. It is well known that lighthearted laughter will regulate one’s blood pressure, accelerate recovery from illness and decrease stress in the workplace. In other words, laughter can be good medicine. It’s true that all cultures enjoy humor and laughter, but how people perceive humor is culture specific. With increasing cultural diversity in the workplace, we need to keep in mind that humor is meant to be funny, not insulting. What perceived as funny in one culture, might not be understood or might even be insulting in another. Some cultures use sarcastic or put-down humor in conversations so as to tease each other. Other cultures do not use sarcastic humor and find this type of humor offensive. Often in a diverse gathering an inappropriate joke may misfire. So I do not recommend poke fun at other groups and individuals in professional and business gatherings. How to determine what kind of humor is appropriate? If you want some fun, have it at your own expense – the safest type of humor is self-depreciating humor Do not tell jokes related to physical appearance like a person’s height, weight or the size of their nose. Keep in mind that humor does not translate well because very often it is based on word plays or puns, and these do not translate easily into another language. Do not tell political, religious, ethnic, racial jokes and other jokes that ridicule peoples’ beliefs or affiliations or even accents. In one organization I recently presented at, a manager was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business! So know what, when, where, who and how to kid around. Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, global diversity and business English and a frequent presenter at conferences, companies, public libraries, and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and global and multicultural diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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