Why we’re less likely to believe something said with a foreign accent

(Wikimedia Commons/Eyesplash, CC-BY-2.0)

“So why do foreign accents still get a bad rap in the ostensibly open-minded oasis of academia and beyond?”


As an immigrant myself, who came from Serbia to the United States in 2001 in my 20s, I don’t have an accent or it’s barely in there, somewhere.

Based on how I speak Americans and non-Americans react with: “You sound so American.”

It’s how I speak. I’m not trying to sound like anyone or anything, it’s just how I sound. It’s fascinating to me how some people can learn English for a certain number of years and lose their accents (kids are best at it) and then some people live in the States for more than 20, 30 or more years and never lose it.

Is it genetic, a talent, an ability? Why some of us have it and some don’t?

I love hearing different American accents from Boston, New York, Midwest or the South. I ran into a woman from Boston who said that she had to lose her accent to teach English in a school in Maryland.

Why do we have to lose our accents?

What does your accent say about you?

Based on our accents, you can sense where someone is from originally. There are some economic and educational indicators, are you from a small town/village or living in an urban area? Are you educated or not? But this last one can be deceiving. While you might sound highly educated in your own language, speaking in a foreign language might give a different impression.

“So why do foreign accents still get a bad rap in the ostensibly open-minded oasis of academia and beyond?” ~ Why the Brain Doubts a Foreign Accent article in Scientific American.

And then comes the stereotypes. Some we cherish, some we laugh at, some we look down upon. With my Indian friends, we would joke about “thank you come again.” Or rolling the hard “rrrr” to sound Eastern European.

I recently read an article about a successful Polish entrepreneur Tomas Gorny, who took advantage of his thick Easter European accent.

‘Gorny started his business at a very young age, and always had a thick Eastern European accent, which made some people not take him too seriously. He says that played to his advantage and he was able to outmaneuver the people who underestimated him. “It brings a lot of advantages to businesses when people underestimate you, and in some ways, that can be a big power that can be leveraged,” he says.’

Why is it that whenever we hear British or French accent we think of it as sophisticated? We do laugh at some of the pronunciations and John Oliver is the first one to point that out being a Brit himself. Or ask a French person to say “focus.” Well, it rhymes with “ruckus.”

Ever since I heard Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, I cringed listening to her speak (how she spoke, not about what) and I wondered why? Is it embarrassing that she’s from my part of the world and sounds like that? Besides reading about her in the media or listening to her speak, I really don’t know her.

Driven by this question, I found an article in Quartz magazine “The reason you discriminate against foreign accents starts with what they do to your brain.

‘“We’re less likely to believe something if it’s said with a foreign accent,” says Lev-Ari. In her view, negative judgments are the result of the additional effort that our brains must make to process foreign speech. Our brains then shift the blame for this effort onto the veracity of the speaker.’

Immigrants in the United States and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 81 million people, or 26 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“People around the world are hearing more foreign accents than at any time in human history, as more people move around than ever before.” The reason you discriminate against foreign accents starts with what they do to your brain.

Based on these numbers not only in the United States but in the world, we need to be more accepting of different accents and stop making judgments and discriminate based on it.