What Do People Think of Your Accent?

Matthew MacLachlan

10 Dec 2015

Many of us regard our accents as a giveaway of where we come from, for some our social class and for others our level of education. What do people think of your accent?

Accents, rightly or wrongly, can sometimes become a yardstick to judge people by. Having a posh accent is taken as a sure sign of education, social class and even wealth While other accents are often treated with disdain and even ridicule. But is this right and should we do anything about our accent?

More than a quarter of Britons felt they were discriminated against because of the way they spoke*

Which Accents Are Considered Unfavourably?

The British TV programme “Tonight*” showed that more than a quarter of Britons felt they were discriminated against because of the way they spoke. The poll found that there was a social stigma and snobbery attached to some regional accents.

According to the result, Scousers, or those with a Liverpool accent, scored the lowest as being the ‘least intelligent and least trustworthy’ closely followed by the Brummies, or those with a Birmingham accent. Londoners who speak cockney and the Scots said they also felt discriminated against due to their accents.

On the other hand, people from Devon and those who speak RP were most favoured as friendly, intelligent and trustworthy.

Disadvantages of Less-favoured Accents

You may speak flawless, grammatically accurate English, yet your accent may misrepresent you. There is likely to be, if not a deliberate, then at least an unconscious bias that could disadvantage you in many ways.

  • Negative assumptions might be made about you
  • It could affect your chances of being employed for many jobs including sales, PR or other client-facing jobs, as news readers, lawyers or even teachers. Shockingly, according to research conducted by the law firm Peninsular, 80% of employers admit to making discriminating decisions based on regional accents
  • It affects family life and education. Parents and schools feel the strain of making their children employable. A school in the West Midlands recently banned pupils from speaking regional slang to improve their future employability
  • Immigrants and those whose first language is not English experience bias because of MTI (Mother Tongue Influence)

Some Tips to Overcome Professional and Social Stigma

Don’t fake your accent. Neutralising does not mean putting on an artificial accent

  • Without feeling a need to change your accent, neutralise or at least soften the regional twang so it does not sound too heavy or make understanding more difficult. Lee Miller, career coach and author of UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective—The Art of Getting What You Want says, “I recommend you spend some time to neutralise your accent”
  • Take elocution lessons (speech training) if necessary to effectively articulate and enunciate the sounds so there is clarity in your speech. Voice coach and author Caroline Goyder, from The Gravitas Method says, “Keep the accent, but make sure you are clear to anyone – and understand the etiquette of formal speech. Ditch the mumbling in moments that matter”
  • Improve your grammar and vocabulary, and avoid using regional slang. Working on inaccuracies is more important than putting on a posh accent. But work on your fluency as well
  • Improve your body language. If you can work on your posture, gestures, facial expressions like eye contact, smile, etc. you will deflect attention from your accent.
  • Have a friendly, cheerful attitude and show you are a good team player. Research shows that employers are looking to see if you have the potential to be a good fit for the workplace
  • Whatever you do, don’t fake your accent. Neutralising does not mean putting on an artificial accent. It is most important to sound authentic, to be yourself. Patricia Cukor-Avila, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of North Texas, says, “When you try to mask it, you’re not going to come across as yourself. Be yourself, and hope you will sell yourself because of who you are”
  • Finally, relax. You are more than your accent. Stressing anyway will not get you a promotion, or even the job in the first place.

Changing Attitudes

English language has always been shaped by the influences of other languages. Just as in the past the languages of the early invaders like the Vikings and the French merged with the Anglo Saxon, more recently the languages of the Irish, Asian, Caribbean and African immigrants have morphed and blended with interesting results.

This has created new accents as well. Take for example MLE or Multicultural London English, which is becoming a dominant accent in the South East.

In this rapidly changing multicultural and racially mobile world, people don’t always care for “posh” accents. In certain fields, regional dialects may even be an advantage. More and more, people will be judged for who they are and accent is only a part of their identity.

Just look at the BBC, for example. Once the bastion of posh accents and the Queen’s English. You will now see newsreaders, weathermen (and weatherwomen), presenters and comedians all being themselves and speaking proudly with their regional accents. Good on the BBC for promoting the wealth of regional accents the UK has to offer.

There is more to the UK than London and the South East of England believe it or not!

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