Are People More Likely to Distrust Non-Native Speakers?

Are People More Likely to Distrust Non-Native Speakers?

By Susan Berkley

Foreign born speakers of English often struggle to be understood and in the current job market, if English is not your first language, interview jitters may become even worse.

Some people with heavy foreign accents say that not only must they struggle to make themselves understood, they must also contend with a lack of trust.

A new study “Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent On Credibility,” in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology confirms their frustrations.

To determine whether a person’s distrust of non-native speakers comes from prejudice or incomprehension, psychologists designed two experiments.

First, they asked people with various accents – including native English speakers,┬áto recite trivial statements, like “Ants don’t sleep. ” They then asked a group of research subjects to judge the truthfulness of the speaker.

The subjects were then told that the speakers were merely reciting statements provided by the researchers and were not the source of the material. Even so, the listeners distrusted non-native speakers more than they did native English speakers.

Next, the researchers told the subjects that difficulty in understanding causes people to distrust non-native speakers. The research subjects were capable of adjusting their impressions of speakers with mild accents, but still distrusted statements from speakers with heavier accents.

Here are some tips for those who want to overcome this unconscious tendency. These tools are especially helpful for anyone who is interviewing foreign born job candidates.

  • Put the speaker at ease by showing genuine interest. One way to do this is to ask about the speaker’s homeland and the origin of their name. People are proud of their heritage and love to talk about it. The more comfortable you help them feel, the better they will communicate – a win-win for both of you.
  • Politely ask them to speak more slowly. If you’re the interviewer, tell them you are taking notes and don’t want to miss anything they say. Avoid jargon and slang and invite them to ask you to repeat yourself if anything you say was not understood.
  • Be patient! Experts say English is one of the most difficult second languages to learn. For example, why isn’t daughter pronounced dafter like laughter? We say shoes but goes is not gooze and does is not dooze. A musician plays the bass, but a fisherman catches bass. You get the idea.
  • Keep your cool. Many people from other countries speak several languages fluently, yet some native speakers whose only language is English rudely express their annoyance (or worse!) when someone struggling with the language speaks less than perfectly.

For more information on effective speaking check out my “VoiceShaping: How to Find Your Million Dollar Voice” program, which is on sale now for only $95, plus shipping and handling. There are 7 CDs and a massive manual. You’ll learn how to fine tune your pitch, tone, inflection, tempo, rhythm and vocal placement. And, on the 7th CD, I demonstrate a series of exercises that you can do along with me to improve the clarity of your diction and develop standard American speech.
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Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company, a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world how to become successful voice over actors. The Great Voice Company is an international leader in voice over training and in providing top quality voice over recordings in all languages to discerning businesses and marketers. For additional information visit

Copyright 2012, The Great Voice Company. All Rights Reserved. Are People More Likely to Distrust Non-Native Speakers?

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