As with many second generation immigrants, I’m often the one in the family handling the contacts with hospitals, schools, and authorities in general. Mi abuela only speaks Spanish and my dad, although his Swedish is very good after living here for over 30 years, still has an accent. Being born and raised in Sweden, my Swedish is perfect and I can quickly explain whatever my family needs without there being any complications. In short: it’s the easiest way to get things done.
Then the other day I stumbled upon an article that made me think that there might be more to why it is easier for me to make the phone call. It was about a new study conducted by the University of Chicago, showing that “(f)oreign accents make speakers seem less truthful to listeners.” The study was conducted with native- and non-native English speakers reading statements from a script. The test showed that the heavier the accent, the less credible the person was perceived. This is, according to Professor Boaz Keysar, because we “misattribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statements.”
Anyone studying a new language knows how difficult it can be to learn a complete new set of sounds, and that it often is impossible to sound like a native when you’re not. There are many sounds in the Swedish language, for example, that simply don’t exist in Spanish or English, and learning them as an adult can prove to be quite challenging.
Although I’m not surprised with the result, it is disheartening to see it black on white (or as Americans would say; in black and white). One would think that with globalization; the way we are moving all over the world and interacting with people from different countries on a daily basis, that one’s accent shouldn’t be a reason for someone to mistrust you.
If you visit the University of Chicago website, you can listen to some of the recordings and judge for yourself…
The University of Chicago- http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=2049
by Jennifer Turano