Is You Accent Ruining Your Career ?


An accent is a way of pronouncing a language in a certain group of people.. It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent. The influence of your accent on your career is not as important as it used to be before the era of globalization and internet where billions of people speak English as a non-native language. But do accents still matter? Absolutely, especially if it is interfering with you capability to communicate well with customers, peers or your boss.  Even a subtle accent can misrepresent you, and possibly even hurt your chances of getting hired.

TV , the internet and movies create stereotypes for both foreign and regional accents. There are many American accents, each with its own distinct stereotypes. Certain American accents carry the stereotypes of being “uneducated” or not suitable for a customer services or sales job. Some studies have shown that a south-east accent is the best one to get ahead in finance for example. Most people have negative attitudes toward Individuals with non-standard accents. Researchers consistently show that people with nonnative or foreign accents are judged as less intelligent, less competent and less educated.

In almost any business, it is an advantage to be a clear communicator, it doesn’t mean that you have to change your accent as long as people can listen to you effortlessly. Some result of experiments published in the “Scientific American” Journal demonstrated that accent might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers, court eyewitnesses, or college instructors for reasons that have nothing to do with xenophobia per se but instead related to “cognitive fluency” that means the brain preference for easy way to process information.

For people working in England for example:

Top 5 accents most likely to help your career:
1. Cambridge
2. Essex
3. Irish
4. London
5. Newcastle

Top 5 accents most likely to hinder your career
1. Glasgow
2. Birmingham
3. Manchester
4. Middlesbrough
5. London

For Foreigners living in North America certain accents are more “sexy” than others. In a new research study conducted jointly by the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, three thousand American men and women ranging in age from 18 to 54 were monitored to detect the attractiveness of different foreign accents. Here the results:

FOR MEN

  1. Italian
  2. French
  3. Spanish
  4. Southern
  5. Greek

FOR WOMEN

  1. Italian
  2. Spanish
  3. French
  4. Greek
  5. Irish

The impact of an accent is subjective, it depends on the context but you must be careful to express empathy with the person you talk to. For a job interview, you have to pay extra attention to your pronunciation the same way you should do about your body language and your clothes. In a previous article I spoke about the different meanings of colors in different cultures .The Power of Color In Doing Business Across Cultures, In another one I give some example of Facial Expressions Of Emotion Across Cultures  on how mimicking facial expressions helps you better communicate.

If people ask you too often to repeat what you are saying it might be a good idea to try to acquire the local pronunciation to be better understood. However accent is only one aspect of intercultural communication and its negative impact can be compensated by learning cultural traits and non-verbal gestures,

Here some tips for foreign people living in America to improve their communication skills in English without spending a fortune in accent reduction programs:

  1.  Self-training by listening to recorded materials or podcasts
  2. Listen to local radio and watch local news on TV
  3. Join your local toastmaster group (usually the meetings are free) http://www.toastmasters.org/
  4. Find networking groups with people sharing you interests (you can check Meetup groups for example)

Related resources:


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5 thoughts on “Is You Accent Ruining Your Career ?

  1. Rock Langston (@toptomato) November 9, 2011 at 9:43 am Reply

    I’d be interested in hearing another side of this. How are various American accents perceived in other countries? I love speaking Spanish, but imagine I sound pretty funny to them in Mexico. They’re polite, and say that my I do well, but I know they’re being VERY generous!

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach November 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm Reply

      HI Rock, Very interesting question. I am not sure if I am the best person to judge American accents from abroad as I have been an expat for most of my adult life and I am used to foreign accents.
      When an American or a British speaks French they are either fluent or just remembering few words they learned at school. In most cases we switch to English. When a foreigner try to use French I always compliment as an appreciation for they efforts of learning my language and liking my culture.

  2. Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach December 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm Reply

    Related to that topic is voice recognition softwares. Here a fun video about Scottish accent and voice recognition : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FFRoYhTJQQ&feature=share

  3. Kathy Harrison December 15, 2011 at 6:15 am Reply

    Hello Anne! I’ve only just discovered you’re blog – found via the BBC news article, and being a trailing spouse and loving your insights.

    Very interesting topic about accents. My husband and I are both British but live in central Germany, 30 miles east of Frankfurt. My husband spent most of his childhood in Tyrol, Austria so grew up bi-ligual: one of the reasons we were offered this transfer opportunity. However when speaking German with his (natural) Tyrolian dialect it is very negatively perceived by professional Germans as “the uneducated goat farmer from the mountains” so he quickly changed to speaking high German (similar to Queens’ English).

    This has, for my husband, the annoying point of emphasising his English accent yet garners respect from colleagues and clients alike. As a foreigner and fellow western-european, having an excellent command of the German language he is often automatically perceived as highly educated, thus giving him a great advantage within one or two sentences of meeting someone new and negating much need to prove himself to gain initial respect, plus gramatical errors, written or spoken, are forgiven rather than criticized.

    Unfortunately the same can’t be said for his eastern-european colleagues, their accent is a great hinderance as they are perceived as less intelligent and (especially a Russian accent) a possible criminal!

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach December 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm Reply

      Hi Kathy, nice meeting you here, Thanks for sharing your husband experience, how about your accent ? Are you bothered by people asking where do you come from or nobody notice any accent ?

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