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Student op-ed: Programs to reduce foreign accents for job prospects ‘validate discrimination’

Earlier this month a UCLA Daily Bruin opinion piece described the benefits of programs which assist foreign students with losing their native accents when speaking English.

According to the article, heavily accented English can be an impediment to finding a good job, as employers are reluctant to hire someone who “has not fully mastered [the] language.”

Unless a particular position requires clear spoken English, employers technically cannot discriminate against those with accents. As Gael Adrien Mbama points out in her article, “thick accents can still hurt employment chances if employers truly believe the students’ accents can interfere with job duties.”

This certainly makes sense, of course. An employee can possess perfect (English) grammar, but if his customers can’t understand him, it means nothing … and hurts the company bottom line.

Nonetheless, UCLA sophomore Xinong Wang finds the whole concept loathsome — a validation of discrimination:

That is, the idea that America discriminates against people for having a native language other than English is normalized as common knowledge. These are people whose accents are targeted not by virtue of the accent itself, but for its connection to their race, ethnicity or culture. The article acknowledges this as problematic. But it might consider that a better investment would positively impact diversity, holding society accountable for its prejudice rather than people for their accents.

Saying free and optional “accent reduction programs” is the solution UCLA owes its international community validates the idea that discrimination is a prerogative of American society, and that its solution is the victims’ duty to seek. Suggesting UCLA’s commitment to international students should take the form of a program that normalizes discrimination against them is only endorsing xenophobia in the guise of benevolence. If such programs are helpful, they speak more about society’s acceptance of prejudice as a norm than about the capabilities of international students.

Indeed? Companies should value employee pool diversity over their customers’ ability to understand those employees! A patron may have difficulty making heads or tails of a company’s customer service, but hey — at least the company isn’t engaging in xenophobia!

These days most people won’t care about an accent (of any kind) provided it can be understood. 

Wang’s injection of identity/oppression politics into this matter, as evidenced by her belief that somehow accents from other parts of the English-speaking are exempt from modification — “We’re expected to understand without saying that the suggestion wasn’t for UCLA to start teaching Australians to fake Californian accents” — is just so much contemporary PC nonsense.

I’d rather listen to the accented English of the many Latin Americans I know than that of your typical Aussie or New Zealander. The accents of the latter two largely are incomprehensible to my (American) ears.

Read the full piece.

MORE: Diversity program tackles the last socially acceptable bigotry: mocking rural dialects

MORE: The latest example of ‘bigotry’: a teacher mispronouncing a student’s name

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.