How well can we understand each other? Does our experience listening to non-native speakers help or hinder our ability to understand when listening situations are difficult? Apparently, we may actually be biased based on our experience. In a study reported in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, researchers found that those with experience interacting with Chinese Canadians had a slight bias toward misunderstanding native-speaking Chinese Canadians as compared with white Canadians when they were shown a photo of the speaker. They showed no difference in their ability to correctly transcribe the speech of the two groups when no photos were shown. Read more about the findings here.
If you are concerned that your accent will affect your success in job interviews, you are not alone. Regional accents in British English are sometimes discriminated against, according to a survey of employers. It may be that choice of language including use of regional slang has more of a negative effect than accent, but when looking for employment, you may not know how to make the best choices for your interviews. Having some tools at your disposal, including an understanding of your own accent, and the best choice of vocabulary and expressions for formal situations, is your best defense when approaching an interview situation.
You can read more about this issue in a recent article in the Guardian.
To learn more about slang and American expressions, check out this earlier post.
In a recent study at Charles University in Prague, researchers examined how accents can affect listener perception. Among their findings was the fact that when intonation differs from standard, such as shorter or longer vowels on stressed words, listeners rate speakers as more "nervous-sounding." Even if you are confident during your presentation, interview, or conversation at work, your listeners might think you are nervous based on hearing your accent. Learning to use American intonation, specifically stress patterns and correct vowel length, will help you come across as the knowledgeable and confident speaker you are.
Read an interview with the researcher Jan Volín here.
You are visiting a neighbor’s house, and you compliment the art on their wall. They immediately take it down and insist that you take it as their gift to you. Are they being sincere? It can be hard to judge, and apparently, if they are speaking with an accent, it can influence what you think of their sincerity. A recent study at USC found that listening to information in accented vs. non-accented speech can affect the listener’s subsequent interpretation of events. If the listener comes from the culture of the accented speech, they are more likely to follow their native cultural trends in their reading of the situation, but if they are mono-cultural Americans, they are more likely to impose their American judgments and values when considering what they heard. Whoever your listeners may be, the clearer you can be in your speech, the better the resulting communication. Read more about the study here.
Looking for a new job? Want to advance in your career? Don't let your accent hold you back. In this recent article, Monster.com advises job-seekers to practice answering questions prior to interviews, using their best English grammar and vocabulary skills. But an accent can still interfere with your interview, if your speech is difficult to understand. Both regional and foreign accents can be at play when it comes to your job search. Despite being native American English speakers, some job candidates may be considered less qualified for the position based on their strong regional accent, according to researcher Dianne Markley.
Whatever your accent, learning to speak so that others understand you clearly is in your best interest when looking to advance in your career.
Venture capitalist Paul Graham took some flak recently when he stated that a CEO with a foreign accent was less likely to succeed (see original INC Magazine Article). He clarified his message with this column on his website. The first article's editor latched on to inflammatory language used about the choice to speak with a heavy accent. The follow-up written by Graham points out that an accent is not a problem in business, but not being understood because of a heavy accent is clearly a problem.
It's important to note that professionals have a choice: speaking with an accent which contributes positively to their career, or impedes their progress because they are not communicating clearly. The difference? American Accent Training with a professional.
In an ever-increasing global society, more and more people are multi-lingual, live or work in foreign countries, or work with people from countries and cultures that differ from their own. We can hope that increasing globalization in business will result in greater connection between individuals and increased cultural understanding. Unfortunately, our ability to understand the speech of others appears to play a part in our perception of their trustworthiness.
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