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World Class Speech Services | Article

Yo! Let's Keep It Real Y'all!

9/18/2014
When the discussion of accent modification is raised it is almost always a contentious topic. Notwithstanding, it is a topic that is foremost in the minds of many people whether they admit it or not. I suspect that you are thinking “NOT ME” incredulously, but I beg to differ.

In November of 2012 an article came out in CNN Travel that listed the top 12 sexiest accents (http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/worlds-sexiest-accents-130333). Let me tell you what they were: 12. Argentine, 11. Thai, 10. Trinidadian, 9. Portuguese, 8. US Southern, 7. Oxford British, 6. Irish, 5. Nigerian, 4. Czech, 3. Spanish, 2. French, 1. Italian.

Now let me ask you a question, as you read that list did you think, even for a moment, that you would highly agree or disagree with one of these choices? If you did then you are typical when it comes to accent biases. We all have preferences when it comes to patterns of speech that we find either appealing or repelling.

Of course, most of the time this does not matter as we have no general sway on another person’s livelihood right, or do we? In a semi-famous project that was done in 2000, a student in Texas did a study on the hiring biases of employers with men who had varying American regional accents (http://www.unt.edu/northtexan/archives/w00/accents.htm). It was found that positions of higher expertise and customer contact were given to people who were judged by listeners to have better speech characteristics. One startling factor was that a New Jersey man with a doctorate was given the lowest ratings. There have been several lawsuits brought about due to accent discrimination in the workplace. And people have been held back in social and professional development due to their accents.

So what can we do? I say educate yourself. Don’t live in denial and say “that’s not me”. Instead become more aware of your biases and learn how you can overcome them. Look at the speaker’s qualifications more closely in all interactions and be empathetic- know in some settings YOU are the one with the accent. If you are a person with a strong accent learn how you can effectively “code switch” (move from one style of speech to another in varying situations) to communicate more effectively and understandably. If you need to, seek training in cultural sensitivity as a listener or pronunciation classes as a speaker.

You should be proactive in overcoming this and not leave it to society to change their ways. You are part of society, so take the first step.