Why Do People Doubt You When You Speak With An Accent?

In my coaching practice, I often hear that people feel they are being discriminated against due to the fact that they have an accent.  Accent discrimination is rampant and surprisingly legal.  The question is, why do people discriminate?

New research done at the University of Chicago suggests prejudice is only part of the problem.  Non-native accents make speech more difficult for native speakers to parse, and thereby reduces “cognitive fluency”, or the process by which the brain organizes stimuli.  This causes people to doubt the veracity of what is said.  From “The Scientific American”:

As a test case, researchers asked people to judge the truthfulness of trivia statements.  Statements were recited by either native or non-native English speakers. (Example: A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can.) The non-native speakers had mild or heavy Asian, European, or Middle Eastern accents. The subjects were told that all the statements had been written by the researchers but, still, the subjects tended to doubt them more when recited with an accent.

This has broad implications.  It may be that accent discrimination isn’t really about prejudice as much as the brains inherent distaste for any information that is difficult to process.   This may be cold comfort for those who have difficulty being understood on a regular basis.  By encouraging both higher levels of spoken English fluency AND increasing awareness around the science of accent “discrimination”, we can increase effective communication across the globe.

The Science Behind Pausing While Speaking

Did you know there is science behind speaking slowly?  Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed the phone calls of telemarketers and found that people who paused frequently during their pitch were more persuasive than callers who spoke uninterrupted.  The researchers say people typically pause about five times a minute. This speech pattern sounds more believable to listeners than when you spit out words without any breaks.

Nighat Dad’s speech above is a good example of the power of pausing.  She gives a passionate, intelligent speech, with a very powerful premise.  But occasionally she rushes, and when she does, her words come out in a nervous jumble, and she has trouble with syntax and grammar.  Her speech is markedly better when she pauses at the end of each thought.

What do you think?  Does pausing work for you?