There are many guides to making a first impression, networking, interviewing, and socializing, but most seem to start with what you are wearing and jump to what to talk about. What happens in between is the most simple yet most tricky aspect of all - how do you want others to pronounce your name?
How can the pronunciation of a name be controversial?
This doesn't just apply to non-English names being used in English speaking countries or vice-versa. People who have an unusual spelling of their name experience this. People who are multi-lingual and have different pronunciations of the same name experience this. People who prefer a nickname to their legal name experience this. There have been many blogs and articles written about this topic and they are generally between these two extremes:
1) This is how I pronounce my name, I will not accept any other pronunciation.
2) You'll never get my name right, I'll use a completely different name that is easy for you.
What name pronunciation choices have in common:
If you're the speaker, appreciate even the wrong attempts and then choose the level of effort you want to put in to teach someone how you prefer to pronounce your name. Everybody has different levels of tolerance for what's "close enough" or "perfect."
Even with English-to-English interactions, these tips will help someone easily hear and remember your name, which is what you want in any situation.
1. Separate the Syllables
A syllable must have only one vowel sound (vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y). That seems simple but it's not because of the differences in spelling and sound. What it looks like is not important, it's what you hear.
"Jing" = 1 syllable
"Issac" = 2 syllables: I - ssac
"Makato" = 3 syllables: Ma - ka - to
"Abudakar" = 4 syllables: A - bu - da - kar
"Ekaterina" = 5 syllables: E - ka - te - ri - na
"Pilavullakandi" = 6 syllables: Pi - la - vu - lla - kan - di
2. Choose the Stressed Syllable
If you are introducing yourself to an English speaker, one syllable should be pronounced with more stress (it will have a higher pitch and longer vowel duration). This means that even if you don't pronounce your name this way, the English speaker will. If you don't make it easy to hear which syllable you'd prefer to have stressed, they will stress whichever syllable they choose and this could be different among every listener. This is your chance to take control over how you want your name to sound and it will help the listener hear it, say it, and remember it.
Try all your options and pick one that is most acceptable to you. In the stressed syllable, even if you have a single syllable name, like "Jing," you should stretch the vowel longer than the other vowels so you can use a downward fall in pitch as you say it. If you can't hear the vowel, it's too short. Stretch it longer than you think you need to, probably longer than you feel comfortable doing at first.
In Japanese, "Makato" is not pronounced with one syllable higher than another. However, an English speaker will put it somewhere, so three different people could pronounce it three different ways: MA - ka - to / ma - KA - to / ma - ka - TO
When you make the choice, it helps people hear your name in a consistent way which helps them remember it and then they are more likely to use it.
American English names usually have stress on the first syllable of a two-syllable name, so if you read a name that you haven't heard before and you have to make a guess, that's a good guess.
3. Speak Slowly
You've said your name your whole life and heard it more times than you can count and more different ways than you can remember. It's old news to you. It's news to someone you are introducing yourself to. Don't rush through it. Make this first impression count as one they'll remember and one that will make them feel comfortable introducing you to someone else. If you've ever been introduced to someone and the person introducing you didn't use your name, there's a good chance they just forgot it, or they're embarrassed that they don't know how to pronounce it well.
Resources for Pronunciation
Although pronunciation of a name is a personal choice, if you have an unfamiliar name that you have read but haven't heard and would like to try to learn it before trying to say it, there are a lot of websites that can help.
This article, "4 Useful Websites to Help You Pronounce Names Correctly" had some good recommendations: Hear Names, Pronounce Names, Inogolo, The Name Engine.
This website, Name Coach, let's you learn from the individuals themselves about how they pronounce their name. The people you add to your list will receive an e-mail from the website with a simple form for them to type and audio record their name.
A great feature that you can use for yourself is a "name badge" that is a recording of you pronouncing your name.
Example of Pratima Ramesh Shanbhag's name badge.
I created one (Christi Barb) and added it to my LinkedIn profile in the Contact Info in the Websites section. I highly recommend it if you have a name you think may be difficult for recruiters or people you've never met to pronounce. In Pratima's and my name badge recordings, I want you to notice how slowly we pronounced our names. It does feel weird, but to unfamiliar listeners, it will sound great.
Making a good impression may not begin with your name, but if they don't remember your name because they never heard it or learned it, there may not be any impression. Help them remember you, name and all.
If you're searching for a job, this could be you:
You recently sent out several resumes and are eagerly awaiting to be contacted.
You had a job interview that you're excited about and are hoping they'll call you.
If so, then this could also be you:
When your phone rings, you are so excited that it could be the company that you sent your resume to or interviewed with that you answer your phone immediately.
You don't want to be rude, when the phone rings you should answer it.
If you don't answer, they might think you're not interested and offer the job to someone else.
You missed a call earlier and didn't know who it was so you don't wan to miss another one.
Instead of focusing on the speaking strategies for phone calls, I want to focus on a preparation strategy. Often, it's not the speaking on the phone that is difficult, it's the listening. Without strong listening skills, you can't form an appropriate reply and confusion and miscommunication is the result. I have a suggestion that could be helpful for anyone, but even more so for people who speak English as a second language.
Keep in mind that every interaction you have with a recruiter or anyone from the company you are applying to is a part of the interview process. Every e-mail and phone call is representing you before and after you are in that conference room for an official interview. You may be careful to not text back quickly in reply to an e-mail, so you should be careful not to pick up quickly for a phone call.
Consider variables that affect your phone call quality:
Noise - outside environment, weather, transit, other people talking
Situation - inappropriate place to take a call (e.g., theater, car), conversing with others, busy, on another call already
Attitude - distracted, in a hurry, sleepy, upset
Technology - quality of the sound on your phone, battery life
Most of these are not related to your speaking skills yet they can all impact the quality of your response. It is better to let an important call go to your voicemail than answer and have a conversation that doesn't represent you well.
I recommend getting a free Google Voice phone number and setting up your account to receive voice mails that are transcribed for you. I won't go into all the details because you can easily find that information online from Google.
These are the features that are most useful for multi-lingual speakers.
Read it first - The voice mail message that the caller leaves can be read as a text transcript and from my own experience using it, it is very accurate. You can play the audio while looking at the text so if there is something that's a little off, it's much easier to figure out in the context of the whole sentence. You can also edit the transcript to add info or make corrections.
Multiple devices - The calls can be received on your phone, not just on a browser, so you won't miss receiving calls or reading the transcripts when you're not at your computer.
Specialized voice mails - You can set up different voicemail greetings for different incoming numbers. You could have friends receive a greeting in one language and all "unknown" numbers receive a greeting in English.
When you have the text to read in addition to hearing the audio voice mail, you have more information to form a good understanding of the message and can begin to form a clear and accurate reply.
Practice what you will say in the call before you call back. This will make you more familiar with the vocabulary and pronunciation that you'll use. Practice speaking with a slower-than-conversation pace so if you get voice mail and need to leave a message, your name and number will be easy for the listener to understand.
Anticipate what questions might be asked so you can be prepared. If its about scheduling an interview or a second visit, get your calendar ready. If it's a first time call, have your resume ready so you can refer to dates and specifics that are on there.
If you have prepared what to say and have your calendar and resume handy but you get their voice mail, you will be much more prepared to leave a calm and confident message.
The biggest benefit of using Google Voice, or any voice mail feature that will transcribe the messages for you, is that it gives you time to prepare and return the call on your terms, when you are ready, confident, and in the best situation possible. It's better to miss a call in a bad situation than to take it and make a bad impression.