I want to tell you about accent prejudice in my mother’s life and then share one great tip for you to tackle this prejudice. If you want to jump straight to the tip, scroll down to the bottom of this blog post.
Some of you may know, I was born in Somalia. My family were refugees who moved to England after the civil war started in 1990. My father grew up in India and learnt English in a strong Indian accent. He then taught my mother how to speak English when we moved to the UK.
When I was young, I wasn’t sure what was happening around me, but I saw the faces of my Native English-speaking teachers and the face of my mother as she struggled to string together sentences. At the time, I didn’t know what ‘prejudice’ was, I didn’t know that my mother was experiencing prejudice.
What I saw when my mother spoke to native English speakers:
- Their patronising facial expressions
- Their intimidating raised voices
- Their sighs and eye rolls when….
She wasn’t deaf, of course. You know that. This probably has happened to you too, and if it hasn’t, I’m very glad.
Prejudice is something we as humans cannot control at times. The unspoken phenomena of accent prejudice is not exclusive to English speaking countries. When I lived in Cairo, I experienced prejudice because my Arabic accent was not like a native. It was obvious that I came from overseas, my gestures, facial expressions and even how I used my hands indicated ‘foreigner’ to the Egyptians.
Most non-native English speakers living in English speaking countries tell me that the prejudice they feel makes them believe they are inadequate, unintelligent, unsuccessful and even subordinate at times. This is very painful. It makes us doubt ourselves, crushes our confidence and even triggers resentment.
When I lived in Cairo, my native accent indicated wealth, so I was always haggled and charged a higher price than native Arabic speakers who know the local value of a product or a service.
Lucky for me my uncle was around, and he spoke Arabic like a native! When I was being charged $75 dollars for a horse ride, I would quickly check with him to see if that was the correct price. Almost every single time, he would say no and ask me to pass the phone to the seller/service provider where I’d hear him raise his voice a little and give them a telling off.
Once they got off the phone, the price for a horse ride became $30. Some people call this ‘positive discrimination’. I don’t find anything positive about this at all. Just because I did not have a native Arabic accent did not mean I was stupid and could not tell the local value of a service or a product, nor did it mean I had lots of money to hand away. Just because my mother did not have a native English accent, did not mean she was hard of hearing or slow in understanding.
Just because YOU don’t have a native English accent, does not mean you are not a competent professional, successful business person, a bright student or a wonderful colleague.
You can’t change your accent overnight
But here is one thing you can change today….How you present yourself
If you want to defeat prejudice starting from today, do everything in the list below.
- Pin your shoulders back, elongate your neck and raise your chin slightly. This will allow greater airflow and the chance to use different intonations so that people can FEEL what you are saying and not just HEAR it.
- Speak at a volume that makes you certain that people can hear you. People aren’t deaf but if you have an accent, a little more volume can help a native speaker hear the subtle and quick sounds you make when you speak. Don’t forget, these sounds are foreign to them too.
- Relax your facial muscles, we hold so much tension in our faces we don’t realise how much it is holding us back from speaking with confidence and ease.
- BREATHE as you speak. This is your key to accent success. This is what will free your voice to extend vowels and soften consonants.
- START RIGHT NOW