Like we mentioned a few weeks ago, communication is tough. Whether you just can’t seem to find the right words to express yourself, or you’re in a different country and forget the translation for “where’s the bathroom?” life gets complicated when you can’t communicate clearly.
To only add to the nuances of everyday communication, it appears that the ability to clearly express ourselves plays an important role in our perceived credibility — at least when it comes to our accents.
A recent study done by the University of Chicago found that native English speakers view those with a foreign accent as being less trustworthy. The study found that the dialect distrust was not due to prejudice, but because those with accents were harder to understand. Participants in the study reported a small, yet definitive difference, between the believability of trivia statements read by native versus non-native English speakers.
On a believability scale of 1 to 10, the statements read by native English speakers were rated at a 7.5, while those read by speakers with a slight accent were rated at a 6.95, and speakers with a heavy accent were given a truthfulness rating of 6.84. It seems that the harder it is for us to understand someone, the less likely we are to trust what they’re saying.
The results of the study may prove alarming for workers and job-seekers with accents.
According to a University of Chicago press release on the study, “Accents might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers.” Which in turn may make it more difficult for job-seekers with accents to land a job.
Though blatant accent discrimination is part of Title VII (the title of The Civil Rights Act that addresses equal opportunity employment) and is addressed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance manual, it is also specified that there are legitimate, business-related reasons for companies to require workers to speak clear English. Meaning that while it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers with accents, they can legally choose not to hire a worker with an accent if it will interfere with the person’s ability to effectively do the job.
According to the compliance manual “Because linguistic characteristics are a component of national origin, employers should carefully scrutinize employment decisions that are based on accent to ensure that they do not violate Title VII.”
Though the article does go on to clarify that “An employment decision based on foreign accent does not violate Title VII if an individual’s accent materially interferes with the ability to perform job duties.”
But what about the regional accents here in the U.S.? We have dozens of regional dialects, from the Southern drawl, to the Texas twang, to the “Joisey” accent, to MinneSOOHta and Boston’s “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” Aren’t these regional dialects just as difficult to understand? (As someone who went to college in Boston, let me say I had just as hard a time deciphering my professors’ Boston accents as I did high school math teacher’s Russian one.)
How do you feel about accents (of all kinds) in the workplace? Have you ever been misunderstood at work because of your accent? Let us know in the comments section, below.