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Is a Foreign Accent a problem?

Is my accent a problem for me?

Whether you have had this thought or not, sometimes it can feel that way. It can feel frustrating to not be understood, annoying to have to repeat yourself and sometimes feel like people don't want to spend the effort listening. It is important though to remember that in this moment in time, all around the world people are being exposed to more foreign accents than ever before in human history.

Photography Colin Boyd Shafer undertook a project to photograph a Torontonian representative from every country in the world from 2013-2014, highlighting the weaving of diverse cultures and peoples in one location. In this day and age, the inter-connectivity of our global society is easily seen and yet there are underlying stigma and misconceptions woven into those interactions.

Your native accent is a calling card to who you are and your experiences. Your native accent is not a problem.

"Your native accent is not a problem"

The problem arises when communication partners to these accented speakers make assumptions about you based on what you sound like. It may also extend beyond stereotypes of prejudice against foreigners according to according to a study by Lev-Ari & Keysar (2010). Native and non-native English speakers recited trivia statements such as "Ant's don't sleep" and subjects were asked to rate the statements' credibility. People judged the statement as less true when spoken by a non-native than a native speaker. Lev-Ari & Keysar (2010) argue that the reduced credibility is the result of the additional effort that is required by the listener to process foreign speech.

Similarly, Lev-Ari & Keysar (2012) propose that because the language of non-native speakers is less reliable than the language of native speakers in conveying the intention, that listeners expect such reduced reliability and that this leads them to represent non-native language in less detail. In laymen's terms, the listener may be less engaged in the interaction and/or remember fewer details.

Now up until this point, it may feel like I'm being contradictory -- that I say your accent is not a problem but then list off research studies that suggest increased challenge with a foreign accent. My point is that your accent is a part of you and should not be seen as something to get rid of. I think that learning an English accent suited towards your surroundings is beneficial but just like a tool in a toolbox, is something that has a specific place and purpose. Why can't you have multiple accents for different situations?

Just like how a keynote speaker has a demeanor and bravado when presenting but may not interact with his/her family like that, there is an appropriate time and place to use each accent in your repertoire to best reach your audience.

According to the Huang, Frideger & Pearce (2013), discrimination against accented non-native speakers is seen even if they were fluent and as easy to understand as those who had an American accent. They argue that one's foreign accentedness is an indication of an individual's political skill or ability to effectively understand others and to use this knowledge to influence them to achieve their own or an organization’s objectives. The implications of this on a real-life situation are that non-native speakers were found to have a significantly lower likelihood of receiving new-venture funding.

Now rather than investing into programs to change one's accent, Huang et al. (2013) suggest non-native speakers to directly target opportunities to bolster their political skill. For example, if the assumption is that non-native English speakers are more timid or unwilling to fight for resources, the accented English speaker can specifically say “I know some might think my accent means that I would be less willing to fight for resources; however, . . .”

I think the bottom line comes down to YOU. If YOU personally want to target your accented speech and YOU feel more confident as a result, then that's your answer. Accentedness is only one piece of the whole puzzle. I won't try to argue how big or small of an impact it has but if YOU want to target your speech clarity, I would be happy to help.

Send me an email at or give me call at



About.( n.d.) Retrieved June 18, 2017, from

Dathan, M. (2013, November 22). Does your accent really hinder your job prospects? Retrieved June 18, 2017, from

Erard, M. (2016, February 25). The reason you discriminate against foreign accents starts with what they do to your brain. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from

Huang, L., Frideger, M., & Pearce, J. L. (2013, August 12). Political Skill: Explaining the Effects of Nonnative Accent on Managerial Hiring and Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0034125

Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2010). Why don't we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(6), 1093-1096. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.025.

Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2012). Less detailed representation of non-native language: Why non-native speakers’ stories seem more vague. Discourse Processes, 49(7), 523-538. doi:10.1080/0163853X.2012.698493.

#Accent #socialperception

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