Attitudes Toward Accents

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Attitudes Toward Accents

One's intellectual ability is often judged on the basis of how well one speaks English. Foreign accents and accents related to variation in style and pronunciation of native English speech can be subject to negative evaluation and discrimination.

Utah with their promotion of Silicon Slopes becomes an increasingly multicultural state, it is to be hoped that we will become increasingly skilled in communicating with those who speak English with various accents as well as tolerant in our attitudes toward all accents.

During my last job interview, the hiring manager wasn’t available to manage properly our cultural differences o he didn’t have the will to do it. After a few minutes of conversation the hiring manager said: “In a non-offensively way, but you have a very hard accent and we don't need waste more time with this conversation, because we work with blue collars, and you know..., they will not understand you”. 

His comment blown my mind, I wasn’t available to say anything, and sincerely him or his company doesn’t need more of my time. But I was curious about EEOC information and if there is a “Standard English Definition”

Is there a Standard English? 

My basis of English were acquired in Europe, it means, my pronunciation of the letters “t” is more strong than in the States, but, I incorrectly assumed that at the end, all is English, and my mix between my Spanish and British accent never was a showstopper for communications, I studied that there are different pronunciations ...tomayto, tomehto, or that past verbs as learned/learnt are completely different spelt, but at the end, all my teachers or mentors always said communications is two ways, and the most important is your will to improve.

In the entry for "Standard English" in The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992), Tom McArthur observes that Standard English "is widely used term that resists easy definition but is used as if most educated people nonetheless know precisely what it refers to." Milroy and Milroy (1999) suggest that Standard English is "an idea in the mind rather than a reality, a set of abstract norms to which actual usage may conform to a greater or lesser extent" 

For people, Standard English (SE) is a synonym for good or correct English usage. Others use the term to refer to a specific geographical dialect of English or a dialect favored by the most powerful and prestigious social group. Some linguists argue that there really is no single standard of English.

Then, is there a World Standard English?

When I read newspapers or listen to the news, from different English speaker countries, I quickly realize that there is no World Standard English version. Each country where English is the first language is aware of their linguistic identity, and try to preserve it. 

And what happen with all the other countries? For those like me, that we have English as a secondary language, I think that we can be grouped into two categories depending on our geographical situation, we were trained to pronounce as American English or British English.

And what about accents? 

The Cambridge dictionary defines the accents as the way in which people in a particular area or country pronounce words.

Sometimes people told me that I talk funny or have a “cute” accent, this is due to features, including duration, rhythm, stress, pitch, intonation, and loudness. (being from Spain loudness is key) 

Lenneberg, E. H. (1967).in his book Biological foundations of language, noted that the degree to which a person can substitute one accent for another is severely dependent upon the age at which the second language is learned. 

Then, at my age or for all those like me, non-native speakers, it is unrealistic to expect sound just like a native English speaker, regardless our commitment, intelligence, and motivation.

Attitudes Towards Accents

In one study, Shiri Lev-Ari, a psycholinguist at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, asked non-native speakers of Polish, Turkish, Austrian-German, Korean, and Italian to record banal statements like “Ants don’t sleep” in English. Native English speakers recorded the same ones. When native English speakers rated the recordings for their veracity, they rated the speakers with the heaviest accents as least true, while native speakers were rated most true.

From experiments like these, it can be tempting to conclude that the cognitive difficulties imposed by non-native speech inevitably lead to social discrimination.

But as Lev-Ari points out, the more we’re exposed to foreign accents, the more our brains train themselves to parse the speech more efficiently.

Remember, communication is a two-way process, both the speaker and the listener have a responsibility for the act of communication. 

  • Don’t pretend to understand
  • Slow down yourself if doubt ask
  • Resist the temptation to speak louder, don’t assume that is a cell coverage issue in the case of a phone call. 
  • Avoid being rude, and avoid comments like “hard accent, cute accent…”
  • As a hiring manager, recruiter or hr, remember that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination and has settled several foreign-accent discrimination lawsuits since 2010
  • Train your brain! 


  • U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Richard Nordquist article updated April 08, 2016
  • Cambridge dictionary on-line
  • Patreese D. Ingram Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension EducationThe Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania Article published on Extension Journal February 2009

Article originally published on LinkedIn

Posted on: May 17, 2017 05:07 PM | Permalink

Comments (14)

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Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right :)

Great points.

Excellent article

Good post! Thank you for sharing.

Sorry about your experience.

@Anupam, thank you for your comment, but I'm far from afraid or negative... ;)

@Aaron, thank you for reading and comment the article, but please, don't say sorry...the call was the ignition for hours of investigation and hard work writing.

There are people with a low will to grow up in all countries and states, the important is how we should manage when we interact with someone with a different accent than us.

Mayte, that is unbelievable. My mouth just about fell open. You are absolutely right, and fortunate, because they let you know in advance the company/atmosphere is not a proper fit.

Mayte thank you for high lighting a major problem for must of second language people. This is general problem. That is wright, communication is two-way process. I have easily solved my problem. when a native english person speaks too fast that I can not understand, in response I start speaking in my original language. then he or she stops and asks What? I clearly explain please speak standard english, not in your native accent.

Mayte: Thanks for your article. Phone interviews are meant for screening out candidates and one or more individuals may be listening to the interview to determine if you are the right fit. Rejection may come in many forms so both interview and interviewees will learn and take away their perspectives from each experience. I'd try to do more informational interviews, get in front of someone you can interact and find ways to get more face to face interviews. If you got this feedback from an interview it's a good indicator this would not be the right place to work anyway.

Thank you for sharing. Just think positive, move on and keep on trying. Best of luck to you!

Great article. thanks for sharing

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