Americans Worry Most about their Accents

Study shows Americans are the nationality most concerned about perceptions of their accent and that accents are associated with traits from professionalism to passion!

The popular language-learning app Babbel commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct the largest global study to date into perceptions of accents and “accent anxiety.”
research, which was undertaken throughout November and December 2019, in collaboration
with Dr Alex Baratta, lecturer in Language, Linguistics & Communications at
the University of Manchester, UK, consisted of interviews with 7,500
respondents in the the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, and
Canada (both English- and French-speaking).
Key findings include:
Americans are the most worried of any nation
about the perception of their accent abroad, with 54% stating they feel anxious
about their accent when speaking in a foreign language.34% of Americans express a desire to shed
their accent when speaking a foreign language.38% of respondents globally state that they
have felt anxious about their accent when speaking a foreign language.
Conversely, Germans (23%) and French (24%) are the least anxious about their
accent when speaking a foreign language.When rated by other countries, American
accents are most likely to be described as “friendly” (34%), “straight-forward”
(27%) and “assertive” (20%). Canadians are most likely to find the American
accent “assertive” (23%) and “straight-forward” (36%), while Italians are the
most likely to find an American accent “funny” (25%).In turn, Americans rate French accents as the
“sexiest” (40%), although they feel that an Italian accent is the most
“passionate” (40%). A Caribbean accent is regarded as the most “friendly” (37%)
by Americans, and British accents are ranked as the most “sophisticated” (44%).Female respondents (42%) and younger
respondents (47%) are more likely to have experienced accent anxiety than the
global average (38%). Men (34%) and older people (31%) still feel anxious, but
to a lesser extent.Americans and Britons are more likely than any
other nationality to overcome anxiety about speaking in foreign languages by
learning common phrases by heart.British is the most likeable accent globally,
with 45% of respondents stating they enjoy hearing their native language spoken
with a British accent. By comparison, an American accent was liked by 34% of
respondents.Poland is the only country where a British
accent isn’t the most popular accent – in Poland, the American accent is most
popular.Poles are most likely to feel that they hold
back from speaking due to perceived negativity connected to their accent (73%
of Polish people state that their accent holds them back from speaking).This is compared with 69% of people globally.According to the 7,500 people polled across
eight different countries, the following attributes are most commonly
associated with certain accents: Most friendly – Spanish (39%)Most unfriendly – Russian (18%)Most straight-forward – German (29%)Most assertive – German (33%)Most uneducated – American (16%)Most funny – American (14%)Most professional – German (26%)Most harsh – German and Russian (38%)Most stylish – French and Italian (30%)Most intelligent – Swedish (24%)Most trustworthy – Swedish (15%)Most passionate – Italian (42%)Most intriguing – French (19%)Most sexy – French (37%)Most sophisticated – French (30%)Baratta, an expert on linguistic prejudice and linguistic
rights who hails from Los Angeles, commented:
“Accents pertain to the use of specific sounds employed in specific contexts.
That’s it from a purely linguistic perspective. From a sociolinguistic
perspective, however, we go beyond a mere descriptive account of sounds and
discuss, for example, attitudes to accents. It is here that accent prejudice
and preference comes into play, involving snap judgements made in terms of ‘his
accent sounds sexy’, ‘she sounds common’, ‘they sound working-class’ and so on
and so on. From a purely linguistic point of view, no accent is inherently one
thing or another – neither good, nor bad. In terms of societal attitudes,
however, such judgements, and stereotyping, persist. It’s important to remember
though that accent is a proxy for larger categories, such as race and class,
and so to ascribe judgement to one’s accent can mean ascribing judgement to
race. The results of Babbel’s study suggest that individuals, keen to fit in
and/or avoid negative judgement from others, modify their accents to versions
which might be seen as less ‘broad’, for example, and with this, reflective of
potentially less negativity from the listener. This is nothing new perhaps and
we could argue that we modify our accent as we modify our clothing – in order
to fit a given context and this is simply an objective response. However,
accent is more personal than clothing, as well as comparatively more fixed, and
so an attack on our accent is an attack on more than just sounds.”


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