Accents – a hinderance or a badge of honour?

pastel_de_nata76 Bilingualism, Blog, Resources Leave a Comment

Are accents a hinderance or a badge of honour? Someone asked me recently if I ever felt discriminated against in the workplace because of my accent, and if I would do anything to change it. I was quick to say no, but it got me thinking… and I would love to know how others feel about it.

The nuances of accents

There are many nuances in relation to accents, for example:

  • foreign born people living in the UK vs. the variety of British accents within the UK
  • mild accents where one can easily make oneself understood vs. having a really thick accent that is tricky for many people to understand
  • where one works geographically and industry wise

Language discrimination

Language or linguistic discrimination is a real thing – it manifests itself when someone makes assumptions about you based on your accent and decides to discriminate against you because of it.

Black people in America have said that they have two languages: 1) a standard language for work, and 2) ‘black’ lingo for when they’re within their community. I’m not going to cover that much on this subject because it’s not my experience and I won’t pretend that it is. A movie called Sorry to bother you (2018) is about precisely this issue.

My case

When I was asked “have you ever felt discriminated against in the workplace because of your accent, and would do anything to change it?” my straight answer was: “No”.  

Perhaps I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked in a diverse and liberal sector – the arts and not for profit sector – and never felt this way.

Or maybe my accent is not too heavy and it’s clearer than most southern europeans?
Or perhaps I chose to not care about what people think?

If my accent was so incomprehensible that I found it hard to make myself be understood, I would do something about it because I like communicating with others.

But it’s not. I don’t mind having a little tang that gives away my heritage. I may have British nationality now, but that doesn’t mean I will transform myself overnight into someone I’m not. I was never one who cared much about appearances or playing a game (to my detriment, I must add, life would be easier if I did!) and I’m not about to start now.

If I can make myself understood, why would I change myself – I am who I am (to the tune of Shirley Bassey’s I am who I am ) and I’m proud of my heritage.

Plus, I love an accent! In the UK, Cockney from east London and Scouse from Liverpool are some of my favourites. And who doesn’t like listening to someone speak English with a French, Spanish or Italian accent?

Someone else’s shoes

Sometimes I wish I was more linear about my thinking and opinions but unfortunately (for me and for my mind space) I like to put myself in other people’s shoes. Imagine people in other industries like, say, the legal and banking. I suspect someone with a strong French or Spanish accent might attract unwanted attention?

Or that someone living in some areas, might, following the increase in racism recently, try to tone it down a bit so not to call attention to themselves?

How about you?

I’d love to know your stories and thoughts on the matter of accents and language discrimination:

  1. Do you have an accent? Where from?
  2. How does that affect you?
  3. Have you ever felt mocked or discriminated against because of it?
  4. Have you ever considered toning down your accent? How would you go about it?
  5. When does it become an issue?
  6. Are accents hindrance? Or a badge of honour?

Let me know in the comments or join the conversation on the Facebook page

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