Triangle Speech Services Logo 600 dpiCommunication Matters

Speaking with an Accent

April 2017 
Issue 104  

 Triangle Speech Services is the private, professional practice of Judith L. Bergman, a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in foreign accent and regional dialect modification and related communication skills. I offer customized, individual tutorials to corporate-sponsored and self-enrolled individuals who speak English fluently but with moderate to severe accents that create challenges and frustrations in the workplace. 
    Dealing with the Painful Truth was first sent in November 2010 and repeated several tmes since.  
   The opinions expressed by those who responded to the report of the University of Chicago study are "worth repeating" because they reflect real, ongoing and painful issues of discrimination and acceptance, of credibility and "first impressions." 
Accents and Credibility: The Firestorm Created by the MSN Article on the U. of Chicago Study
Shaking hands
  A report on the October 27, 2010 MSN  Homepage created a "firestorm" of comments within 24 hours of its publication. On July  19, 2010 the U. of Chicago News Office Homepage featured the original summary of research by Sheri Lev-Ari and Boaz Keysar  published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which systematically compared the effects of mild to more severe accents on judgements of credibility with a control group of native speakers of American English. 
    Dr. Keysar concluded, "The accent makes it harder for people to understand what the non-native speaker is saying. They attribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statements."  
 Listeners and  Speakers Express the Painful Truth

   Reader responses to the MSN report reflected their pain, frustration, anger and blame.  Others tried to be understanding and reasonable.
  Here are some of the more compelling comments. 
   "I'm a black man originally from Africa, I live in Phoenix, Arizona, I have an MBA in Finance and I can't get a job, even a simple job as a customer service or a cashier in the banks around here. I'm currently working as a Restaurant Server in a hotel."

    "I completely agree with the intent of Title VII with regards to fair hiring- every qualified applicant should be fairly considered by employers. It does bother me though that some people think that an accent being a hiring factor is discriminatory." 

"I don't think that an accent makes someone more or less trustworthy; however, how can I do business with someone I can't understand?"

"Communication is two way... if you want to be understood you will try to improve the clarity of your message and if you want to understand someone else you seek clarification. Are we so shallow and in such a hurry that we can't attempt to seek clarification from a foreigner who has tried to learn our language?" 

     "The findings from the University of Chicago really show how ethnocentric the US can be. It is sad to see how a country founded on immigrants from many nations perceives others with an accent as less trustworthy. I think it is a reflection of lack of education, travel oportunities and exposure to other cultures."  


    "So if you have an accent, an/or if you deal with people with accents, be a little more open minded and try to listen a bit harder. An accent is not a reflection on a person's education. Stereotyping is incorrect. We should find it a privilege to meet people from other cultures and countries. They all have so much to bring to our lives and we can all learn from each other."


   "The question is not whether accents undermine credibility, rather it's whether accents trigger people's biases and prejudices against those they perceive as foreign, different, or uneducated. To associate people's accents to credibility is absurd and disingenuous."


    "Languages are so beautiful and one is not better than the other. In order to properly learn a language thoroughly and pronounce it correctly; one must also learn its phonetics and learn the culture of its country. If we want to live in a particular country, one must strive to assimilate to its proper language usage."


   We invite you to click on Triangle Speech Services  to visit our informative website.    We want to help you and know that we can if you are truly ready to do the work.  We will close with this last direct quote from the MSN October 27, 2010 forum:

"As a legal immigrant, I can tell you that looking different and having an accent can make life miserable. When you come here, just the fact that you look different can create a mental barrier. To add to it, if you can't communicate properly due to accent you are always mistrusted. While there is nothing you can do about your looks, there is plenty you can do with your accent. I am now a successful American. So if you are reading this, you can be successful too."

Managers, forward this newsletter to your international "stars" who might be interested in this professional training opportunity.    We are looking forward to hearing from you.


Judith L. Bergman M.A. CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist and Corporate Speech Trainer
Founder & Director of Triangle Speech Services