The Brain: Foreign Accents and Discrimination

March 17th, 2016

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I always cringe when I’m asked the dead-end question: “Where are you from?” (It’s got so old having lived here in the US for nearly 40 years.) And when I answer with a question: “Why do you ask?” The answer I get 99.9% of the time is: “I heard a slight accent.” Never mind that I speak English fluently along with a few more languages. What is bothersome about this question is that the person asking it isn’t at all interested in knowing more about me and engaging in a dialogue. The accent, no matter how slight, seems to trigger something in them and it’s not positive curiosity. If it was, they would have something interesting to say and continue the conversation instead they drop any chance for dialogue like a hot potato. 

In the post included in this link, it appears that our brains are wired to automatically switch to judge a person based on their accent, especially if we are not familiar with different accents or have had little or no exposure and interaction with people who have accents. However, as a resident of Los Angeles, a melting pot metropolis of ethnicities from around the globe, I don’t find this reasoning believable.

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I never forget my French friend Frederique who was so fed up with being asked this question that she finally began answering in her very distinct French accent: “I’m from Oklahoma City!” And the questioner simply nodded his/her head. Clearly the sarcasm escaped them.

In today’s world where borders are murky and we have such an incredible movement of people between countries and continents, discriminating against foreign accents or having an aversion to them is provincial and xenophobic. Let’s change the paradigm and if the need to be inquisitive about a person’s accent is just too much to suppress prepare for an engaging and educational discourse. Show genuine interest. You may just make a friend for life.

Frustrated
Frustrated Evaluator

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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