"What is...?" Talk Series
Accent bias is an unwarranted prejudice toward others based on the sound of their speech. This panel discussion was on Wednesday, August 24, from 12 to 1 PM CDT. Panelists were Donna Durbin, and Dr. Hoda Ehsan, with Dr. Meagan Pollock as the moderator. On this page you’ll find the event recording, plus strategies and resources.
Donna Durbin, Owner of Clear English Coach, is a Global Communications Coach specializing in Accent Reduction and American English pronunciation for foreign born C-suite executives, global corporations and individuals.
After 25 years in academia, ESL professor, entrepreneur, professional artist, traveling abroad and studying six languages, Ms. Durbin now empowers individuals to speak English with clarity, fluency and confidence using her unique digital course and live coaching program.
Dr. Hoda Ehsan
Dr. Ehsan loves working with young people and believes she is very fortunate to work with exceptional ones! Together, she uses engineering thinking not only to solve problems but also to identify problems in our everyday lives. Her goal is to motivate students to pursue excellence in whatever they currently do and choose to do in the future. Because she believes these young people will transform this world into a nice and just place for everyone.
Dr. Ehsan is Director of Quadrivium Engineering and Design and Department Chair for Engineering and Computer Science at The Hill School.
Dr. Meagan Pollock
Dr. Meagan Pollock began her career playing with light projection on tiny microscopic mirrors as an engineer for Texas Instruments. Through her company, Engineer Inclusion, she now utilizes metaphorical projectors and mirrors to shine a light on micro and macro social systems that, when adjusted, improve student and employee success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
A TEDx speaker, author, and a past recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Meagan holds a PhD in engineering education from Purdue University, an MS in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University, and a BS in computer science from Texas Woman’s University. As an engineer turned educator, Meagan focuses on helping others intentionally engineer inclusion™ in education and the workforce.
for English Speakers to be more inclusive
for English Language Learners
LEARNING TO SAY PEOPLE’S NAMES CORRECTLY
(Read the full article here.)
- Always ask how to pronounce someone’s name, and request clarification for names with different versions. For example, though it may seem simple, Anna has multiple pronunciations. After asking, say their name back to them to practice. Don’t be afraid to ask them more than once until you get it right, but take the initiative to write it down so that you get it right sooner than later.
- Ask your students and colleagues to add an audio recording of their pronunciation to their Linkedin profile, or another tool like NameDrop. You should do it, too! Here are the instructions. I also add an audio file to my profile page on my website.
- Search the internet for pronunciations. For particularly challenging names for me, I add a link to the person’s contact in my phone to quickly listen to it before interacting with them.
- If you have a website, you can add your pronunciation to it, too, as I’ve done here.
- Call and ask or listen to their voicemail. One time I called someone to ask for their pronunciation before introducing them on a panel, and though they didn’t answer, their voicemail gave me the answer I needed!
- If in-person, create table tents for people to write their name largely, and optionally add phonetic spelling. If you are virtual, you can invite people to add a phonetic pronunciation beside their name.
What participants shared
- Accent bias is an unwarranted prejudice toward others based on the sound of their speech.
- A sense of surprise because of the narrow perspective
- No trustworthy
- Pin a label
- Thinking someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about because they speak differently from someone from the Coastal Elite communities.
- Unjustified discrimination
- Usually negative (occassionally positive) assumptions about someone’s intelligence and origins that may be based in racism, xenophobia, classism, sexism, queerphobia, ableism, etc.
- You don’t talk like I do so you mustn’t be very bright.
- Judging someone based on how well or not well they speak a certain language
- Clean your ears
- jokes and impersonations
- Limited world view
- Media scapegoating
- Lack of knowledge
- The internalized Caste system of beliefs
- Limited world experience
- Ask people to listen to everyone’s accent and have a competition to see who can pick the most, e.g. New York Vs San Francisco. I will guarantee the foreigners will run rings around the locals.
- Attend cultural festivals and watch/listen to TV/film/music produced by people with accents different from our own
- Pause before reacting- reflect and choose a compassionate response.
- actually listen to others
- Education! Making a conscious effort to learn and understand what we are unfamiliar with.
- Watch foreign films if travel isn’t possible
- Although I was born and raised in Louisiana, I still get comments a lot. For instance, people will acknowledge that I have a country southern drawl and at times they will act as though you are less educated because of that. So this also happens with American’s as also. I don’t know why some people judge a person by they accent alone.
- I have been asked by a supervisor if they can help me with accent. They told me, “I am happy to support you with any professional development, because I believe you are brilliant, and I don’t want people to perceive you differently.” While I know they meant to be helpful, it hurt me a lot, and took a way my confidence for a while!
- One of the first things some people try to figure out before evaluating one’s different accent is finding out where the person comes from. If they come from a western country, usually their accent is found “cute” and “sexy” but as soon as they realize they come from countries in the Middle East or around, then that accent can be judged upon very negatively.
- I have an Iranian accent and I have friends from Europe ( Poland, France) and I do feel the differences in people’s reactions.
- The suppression does not always come from outside but it is innitiated from outside. Just getting one negative reaction to one’s different accent can lead someone to supress themselves more and more and feel less confident to express themseleves even in interactions where different accents may be appreciated.
- My doctor is from another culture and I had to adjust how I listen to him to understand him. His accent is really heavy. He has been my doctor for 20 years and now he sounds like everyone else to me.
- In social justice spaces, it’s pretty common to set community guidelines in the beginning of meetings, and often asking for a “literacy moment” if someone uses words or acronyms that aren’t being understood is really helpful. I feel like that’d be easy to add in a classroom.
Ehsan, H., & Sanchez-Pena, M. L., & Ebrahiminejad, H., & Al Yagoub, H. A. (2019, June), Capturing the Experiences of ESL Graduate Students in Engineering Education. Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2–32497
There are four types of oppression: ideological, interpersonal, institutional, and internalized. Our model shows how systems of oppression work together, interact, and overlap. Oppression is the combination of prejudice and power that creates a system that discriminates against some groups and benefits other groups. These systems are designed by people and upheld by people.
An example of accent bias: Silicon Valley Startup Introduces Voice-Altering Tech To Make Workers Sound “More White”