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I was watching one of my favorite television shows, “The King of Queens,” and the episode came on where Carrie was trying to get a promotion at her job. She was told that she would be a perfect candidate except for her accent. Shocked and disheartened, she tried to do everything she could to make her accent almost non-existent in order to get that promotion. If the only thing holding you back from getting a promotion was your strong accent, would you change it?

My entire family is from Trinidad. My brother and I were the first generation to be born in the United States. Although we were born here, we both had extremely strong accents. People always thought we were born in Trinidad. Once I started school, I was picked on because of the way I spoke. It wasn’t an issue that people couldn’t understand me (in fact I was always told I spoke very well), but simply that it was something foreign to them. In an attempt to stop all of the harassment I received, my mother got me a speech tutor in order to tone down my heavy accent. It did help, but no matter what that accent wasn’t going anywhere. I grew to love it and embrace it because it was a beautiful aspect of my culture.

On the other hand, now as an adult I have seen many people who are in the corporate world turn their accents on and off in order to appease their employers. Again, the way these people spoke was not in a manner that they couldn’t be understood, but they all knew that the higher they went up the corporate ladder the more they had to decrease or hide their accentss. I always thought this was a shame because a dialect is a representation of where you and your family came from. As long as it isn’t so outrageous that only other people from you home state or country can understand it then I don’t see a reason for changing it. It is part of what makes you an individual.

I have noticed that when people are trying to advance in their careers that they will change anything from their style of dress and hair to the way they speak in order to get ahead. They in essence put on a disguise in order to please others. I remember an episode of “Living Single,” where Kyle was told by a colleague that if he wanted to get a promotion that he would have to cut off his locs. After much consideration, Kyle decided to keep his locs and was still offered the position.

I understand that some companies have a particular look and sound that they want those representing the company in high positions to have, but how much about yourself would you change in order to advance in your career?

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  • I am first generation Trinidadian American as well. :) I do have a slight not-quite-Midwestern American accent, but only strong enough to get a quizzical stare every so often.

    While I would never encourage anyone to change their accent in order to “give in” so to speak, but if someone had difficulty understanding me I would certainly slow down or explain what I said more than once. This especially goes for differences in sentence structure, noun/verb order and the like. In my experience this maybe meant rephrasing something (ex. when asking for my bag I may say, “Can you get me bag?” leading to that quizzical look depending on who it is, lol).

    Now, if someone’s just being plain rude that’s a whole ‘nother story indeed!

  • Northern Girl

    Interesting comments regarding the British/English accent, when I’ve met some Black Americans they don’t understand my English accent! I have to change it to make it sound more like the Royal Family (re: Stereotypical Upperclass English Accent) or I get many puzzled looks. I’m not from the South (London area) so I guess I sound completely different to what you guys expect!

    However I understand most Americans except all your colloquialisms, completely puzzled at times!

    • arlette

      yeah i agree with you there, i cant imagine anyone having any difficulty understanding me though (i am from south london) because i dont think my accent is too strong. i think the british accent most americans are used to are the kind that royal family have. i dont mind different accents but i personally can not stand the scotish accent, i think its coz its so agressive sounding.

  • ThisIshRightHere

    absolutely NOT. Admittedly, I’m saying this from a position of privilege because my mid-atlantic accent is not terribly distinctive. I love my accent and to those who notice it, I believe it speaks volumes about where I’m from and where I’ve been (essentially, who I am). Note that one’s regional accent is not to be confused for an ethnic vernacular dialect. I codeswitch as much as the next person and I am absolutely conscious of my grammar/syntax/sentence structure dependent upon the audience. Accent is always the same though.

  • MK

    once in my life I thought about changing my accent, but not anymore. This is part of who I am and I’ve been told I speak better than a lot of Americans. I am Latina with a Caribbean flavor

  • Bella

    This is a good and realistic article .
    Since I have an accent (not British) I can tell you that most American turn their heads when I start talking and kind of stop talking to me shortly. I don’t have a heavy accent, but I feel like they believe I’m inferior because of that. Of course I see this as an idiotic point of view. Many foreigners are very smart, however I believe that most Americans are stupid and uncultured. I’m an IT person and I pick up quickly on any kind of tasks, but my American coworkers are so slow. I work with people that have Ph.D’s and master Degrees and they are so dumb. After years of using Windows environment, they still don’t know the difference between “user name” and password.
    Americans only know one thing, if they know that, and if they are come across new situations in their life to them, they are not able to handle them.
    However I noticed that in the Southern states people are different when they come to foreign accents. They don’t care. I guess it’s because of the Latinos in those areas or they are more open-minded.