Unveiling the Reality: The Impact of Accent Bias on Communication
Divisions among people are not new. Prejudices rationalized by various superficial differences have plagued humanity for centuries. A troubling issue that has received more attention in recent years is accent bias.
We all have some bias to things in our lives, whether conscious or not. In simplest terms, accent bias is a personal belief that brings about an unnecessary and inexcusable prejudice toward those who speak a language with an accent different from the dominant culture.
Numerous studies have shown that those with a non-native accent are seen as less intelligent, less attractive, and less trustworthy. This happens to people across socio-economic strata. For example, an individual with an advanced college education and the ability to speak several languages will encounter accent bias just as someone with no formal education and an accent will.
Additionally, there are times when an accent can be a barrier to communication. This can be especially problematic when the speaker is trying to convey vital information, such as medical instructions, and the person receiving the details does not grasp the speaker’s meaning.
Recognising the Diversity of Accents: A Tapestry of Global Voices
Our world is filled with beautiful diversity, and accents are a part of the cultural collage surrounding us. Ideally, all accents and cultures would be equally valued, and variations would be celebrated as the treasures they are. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Accent bias, sometimes called accent discrimination, strongly impacts the lives of those who speak with non-native accents. It casts a shadow on social, psychological, and economic parts of life, making a level playing field seem unattainable.
Accent Bias in the Workplace: Implications and Challenges
Studies that focused on determining if accent bias existed in the workplace discovered that this form of discrimination existed. Additionally, accent bias created major roadblocks to employment, career opportunities, and advancement for those who speak with non-native accents.
The study results showed several disturbing pieces of data, including:
- Job candidates with non-native accents were perceived to be less intelligent and less competent than those with neutral accents. Also, female job candidates experienced more accent bias than male counterparts.
- Employees with non-native accents were passed over for business trips and other opportunities.
- Employees with non-native accents experienced difficulties collaborating with coworkers.
- In situations requiring presentations, those with non-native accents were less likely to be speaking.
- Employees who spoke with a non-native accent struggled to advance in their careers.
The Psychological Toll: Navigating Bias and its Emotional Impact
Bullying has been in the spotlight for a long while, but it typically refers to the experiences of children and young adults. Many contend that being called out or left behind because of an accent has a negative emotional impact, similar to what bullied children experience.
Non-native speakers tend to feel shame or frustration when they experience accent bias. This leads to self-esteem problems, stress, anxiety, or depression. This negativity can become so problematic to non-native speakers that they choose to stay in the background of projects and presentations. Avoiding the spotlight reduces the chance of additional attention and ridicule. Some may resort to self-depreciation and making jokes aimed at themselves because this is less hurtful than hearing jokes made by someone else.
Breaking Down Stereotypes: Challenging Preconceived Notions
While various stereotypes are rooted in specific cultures and nationalities, such as the Italian mobster or the Latin romancer, other stereotypes are attached to various accents. These can appear subtly or overtly but make no mistake: accent bias is a genuine problem for tens of thousands of people. The following are accent-based stereotypes prevalent today.
- Speakers with non-native accents are uneducated – An incredible amount of hubris goes into this statement. The fact is many people who come from non-English speaking nations are fluent in two or more languages and are highly educated.
- Those with non-native accents are not trustworthy – This concept goes back to stereotypical notions erroneously attributed to the speaker’s country of origin.
- Speakers with non-native accents are not good workers – Learning a second language, even with an accent, is hard work. Attaining advanced education is difficult work. There is nothing to base this stereotype on except for cultural bias.
- Those with non-native accents dislike English-speaking nations – This is another accent bias rooted in culture-based stereotypes. Terrorist attacks seem to verify this idea. However, the average person who speaks with an accent harbours no hatred towards English-speaking nations.
Accent Training as an Empowerment Tool: Building Confidence and Assertiveness
Confidence is a powerful attribute but one that is difficult to cultivate under the best circumstances. Approaching life confidently after years of subtle and not-so-subtle criticism can seem almost impossible. However, that is the reality of thousands of people who have non-native accents.
Conquering past accent bias is not easy, but it is possible. Once an accent sounds native, people who face barricades and bias can find confidence and the ability to assert who they are and command respect. They are empowered to achieve success on a newly levelled playing field.
The practice of accent training or accent coaching is a tool that assists those who speak with non-native accents in learning to neutralize their speaking voices. Actors and broadcasters have used similar techniques to adjust their accents for decades.
There are numerous courses available. However, working with Speak More Clearly provides access to speech pathologists and trainers who specialize in accent training and who can expertly assist and support students as they go through this life-changing course. The course gives detailed training on how to move your mouth differently to neutralize an accent and to speak more clearly in English, or to gain an American, British or Australian accent.
The Speak More Clearly course allows you to develop confident English speech in a systematized, clear way so you can take advantage of work and life opportunities that because of accent bias, may not have been previously open to you.