Accent Reduction: Is Your Accent Harming Your Career?

Matthew MacLachlan

20 Sep 2016

How often do you think about how you sound? Do you consider the impact your accent creates or the assumptions that others might make when they hear you speak?

Accent reduction coaching is on the rise. Is it acceptable to modify your accent?

Accent reduction: Do you need to?

George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him’

When we consider how we communicate, we often think about:

  • Level of formality
  • Whether to choose simple or complicated words
  • If we should listen politely or if it is acceptable to interrupt
  • How quickly or slowly to speak
  • How much emotion we reveal

We may even consider whether to speak loudly or quietly – our indoor or outdoor voice, perhaps. These communication choices have a direct influence on how well the message is received by others. The issue of accent reduction may also come into play for some speakers or indeed their audience if the accent is deemed to be hard to understand.

How Does Your Accent Influence Your Audience?

Accents are used to make many judgements and assumptions: the most obvious being regional differences

George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him’ but many English-speakers may not always think about what their accent says about them, at least consciously.

‘This is what I sound like.’  ‘This is who I am.’  However, this is rarely the case for the listener.  Accents are used to make many judgements and assumptions: the most obvious being regional differences.

Often value judgements are made about regional accents with those from Birmingham or Liverpool often faring badly

The UK has a large number of accents for such a small country and attitudes to regional accents can vary. Sometimes accent is simply a clue to the speaker’s origins.

But often value judgements are made about regional accents with those from Birmingham or Liverpool often faring badly. Conversely, the London accent is not always popular outside south-east England.

What Does An Accent Say About You?

28% of job candidates believed they could be discriminated against during the hiring process because of their accent

Some argue that an accent can also suggest the speaker’s level of education and class. This could naturally be worrying for those with noticeable accents who are entering the job market or moving up the ladder.

In an article published in The Guardian newspaper:

  • 28% of job candidates believed they could be discriminated against during the hiring process because of their accent
  • More than 20% of people reported changing their accent to improve their job prospects
  • Even more sobering is that employers reported that more than 80% admit to judging and making decisions according to a regional accent.

Received Pronunciation (or RP) was, until fairly recently, perceived as the establishment accent and a necessary tool for advancement in government and large organisations.

80% [of employers] admit to judging and making decisions according to a regional accent

The BBC hired newsreaders and presenters who spoke in RP. More recently, it has placed more focus on regionalism and diversity as illustrated by the inclusion of some noticeably strong regional accents.

Changing Times – Changing Attitudes?

In fact, the accent tide has turned in other areas of public life. Although we might assume that people who want to get on would strive for a ‘posher’ accent, this is no longer always the case.

While there are many examples of people born into humble circumstances who have ‘upgraded’ their accents, there is also evidence that the well-born have sometimes chosen to downplay their roots, to varying reactions.

Although we might assume that people who want to get on would strive for a ‘posher’ accent, this is no longer always the case

For example, the UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has been criticised for toning down his posh accent and adopting a mock cockney ‘mockney’ accent.

What about foreign accents?

Foreign accents open up an entirely new set of expectations and assumptions as they are often laden with different connotations.

  • A German or Dutch speaker may come across as blunt or too direct even if they are fluent, due to tone of voice or intonation patterns
  • A French accent may sound sexy
  • Arabic accents harsh
  • Indian accents ‘sing-songy.’

These judgements based on accent might have an impact on their speakers’ success rate in the job market or their ability to climb the career ladder. Accent reduction coaching is particularly popular among this group.

Should I Be Concerned with My Accent?

Few careers advisors would recommend striving to adopt an RP accent but working to soften a regional accent might still be advisable

So what, if anything, should prospective employees with a noticeable accent do about the way they speak?

Few careers advisors would recommend striving to adopt an RP accent but working to soften a regional accent might still be advisable for some professions and certainly avoiding the use of regional idioms, or slang is a good idea.

Many of us learn to accommodate, or in other words to adapt our speech patterns, according to who we are interacting with. This should not be done in an artificial or exaggerated manner but with a light touch that can help us to build rapport and come across as more empathetic.

No matter what our accent says about us and what we want it to say it is an important part of our identity. We can adapt and soften but we need to sound authentic. Changing your accent to sound like the Queen may help your career prospects, but it does not make you royalty.

We can adapt and soften but we need to sound authentic



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