When i first read this interview i was offended as i do have an accent problem and have been asked to slow down quite a few times.(Mostly while working with American/European clients, but recently even with a couple of indians)
But i have read enough of PG’s essays, to respect him as a thinker and put that offense in the “to examine later in relaxed detail” section of my memory.
Paul graham explains himself here.
And he kind of expands the problem into that of communication problem, more specifically communication about subtle points.
Antirez(Redis creator and maintainer) says here he has had trouble with English for over 10 years.
Here’s my take, partly biased, partly thought out, partly an attempt to throw some light on some subtle issues that got missed in between.
I have very little* problems with written English.But, having worked with, travelled with(slept with??;-)) a few** westerners(mostly americans, germans, russians etc.) i can honestly say that my accent is rather thick and remote for them, but with some effort and focus they can grasp my meanings when i do speak at what is slightly slower than average*** pace/speed.
But there are times my tempo of speech goes up and that’s when the troubles come down like an avalanche. They usually ask me slow down and repeat what i said, and from there it usually is downhill for the goals of the communication. It doesn’t help that i have clear memories of being teased in my teens about mispronouncing/merging two phoneme boundaries, while upping the tempo of speech(I believe it has set me back in my career by atleast 5 years.). PG as always has a very strong case about founder’s having accents and how it affects selling. I completely agree, one reason like he says is that good ideas are perilously close to bad ideas. And other reason stems from my belief that challenging sales is a matter of using narrative tactics to influence one’s decision making.(see here for a confirmatory text).
And in the startup world i imagine there is in the silicon valley, most of the selling goes on in verbal and vocal communications. In those cases changing speech tempo is an invaluable tool in selling.
In the original interview PG also offhandedly comments that,smart founders should have learnt that. Generally speaking, learning new accents is not really hard for someone who has achieve fluency equalling native speaker in language production(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_production#Stages_of_production). But as any multilingual(and antirez does point it out) or decent linguist would point out there’s a huge variance between languages in transforming written(script form) to speech form. I call myself fluent in 3 languages and know two of them(Tamil and Hindi) have a simpler/straightforward translation from text/script to phoneme/sound forms. In fact, I started learning to read and write Hindi(around 13) long after(about 7-8 years) i started off English. And, English became my the primary(used for most interactions with ppl around me) language of communication(work env in 2004) earlier than Hindi(2007).
At this point, am more confident of understanding different accents of Hindi, and to some extent picking up a new accent than that of English.
To be fair, the similarity in grammar between my mother tongue(tamil) and Hindi is nothing compared with the difference with English. Not to mention the obvious bias, because of the fact that, i have had the oppurtunity to learn by immersion(surrounded by native speakers and forced to use it) in Hindi and have not had that level of circumstantial pressure for English.
In addition, i believe that as we grow up, most of us begin to favour one or the other of 5 senses(mostly visual vs auditory) and stick to that for the rest of the life or atleast most parts of it. I am not sure or clear why this is so or how this grows, but i am sure i have been favouring vision for atleast the last decade of my life.(am 30, so am assuming post-teen is when it(preference) solidifies). I have recently(last 2 years??) become more sensitive to my auditory attention and things that drain it away, and i have a strong suspicion my vocal communication skills have improved over this.
UPDATE: After being pointed out basic errors in my English here, I promised to fix, but decided not to.
This post was written and published in a slightly accelerated writing mode than my usual, and the cracks are visible. I think that’s a good example of the point I was trying to make. So leaving this as it is.
*– I learnt British English as my medium of instruction in School, but over the years have read so much that my English grammar and sometimes spelling tends to fall somewhere in between British and American English.
** — still only about a few tens, and so i consider not a reasonable sample size to form strong opinions.
*** — average to my exposure of meeting people, which is very heavily biased with Indians(Tamilians, to be more particular).