Does an accent hold you back?

By Jaimy Ford

I recently enjoyed a visit with some very dear friends who have lived their entire lives in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. I’d forgotten how wonderfully strong their accents are. With each “smaht (smart),” “pahk (park),” “cahd (card),” I found myself missing that accent more and more.

It also got me thinking about my own accent. I’m from the western mountains of Virginia, and we have our own distinct southern-meets-the-mountains dialect, but having lived in various places, including Massachusetts, my accent has morphed and much of it has slipped away. Some words come out very southern (“hill” is often two syllables when it comes out of my mouth). Other words have a New England twist courtesy of my years spent living there and adapting my husband’s Connecticut accent.

Right after college, I moved to Connecticut, and I remember people referring to the way I talked as “cute” or “sweet.” I was often asked to “say _______” so that people could get a kick out of the way I talked.

I never saw my accent as a hindrance, although looking back, I wonder if people took me less seriously because of it. The following examples indicate that accents can hurt your credibility—as a speaker and professional.

  • A foreign accent undermines a person’s credibility, research at the University of Chicago shows. Because an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful, researchers found.
  • Deborah Boswell created the “Tame Your Wild Southern Accent” audio program, which guides you through 21 exercises to smooth out your southern accent because it can hold you back professionally.
  • A study conducted by Diane Markley and Patricia Cukor-Avila shows how regional accents can affect hiring. Of the 10 regional accents, a distinctive “New Jersey” accent received the most negative rating by hiring professionals.

I tend to enjoy accents of all kinds. And as long as I can understand the speaker, an accent keeps me engaged. In addition, I feel a bit more connected to the person because I am seeing the “real” him or her. Not a perfected version.

Have you ever felt that your accent holds you back? Have you taken measures to tone down your accent, or do you own it and use it your advantage?

2 responses to “Does an accent hold you back?

  1. Pingback: Accent Angst « communicating.across.boundaries

  2. Pingback: “I Have Never Met An Accent I didn’t Like!” « communicating.across.boundaries

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