Accents: Does it Matter?

With the Mutual Recognition Agreement opening up the doors for SLPs to work in other countries, one of the next questions that one starts to ask themselves is:

Will I understand them and will they understand me?

I will be the first to admit that even though I have finely tuned SLP ears, there are some accents that I have significant difficulties understanding. I would suggest that when you are considering moving to another country that you think about this too.  Also, some countries have regional variations such as in America and the UK. When I lived in England I found that I could understand people from the ‘south’ easier than the ‘north’.

You say tomato, I say tomahto

1. Vowel productions: Most of the ‘speech’ difficulties that you will find are a result of vowels. Most accents are carried on vowel sounds and they are impacted by intonation and emphasis. It’s the ‘tom-ay-to’/’tom-tah-to’ example. Vowel sounds are effected by a number of variables, such as vowel height, backness, vowel length, lip roundedness and nasalisation. In Australia I was called ‘Becky’, but in New Zealand they called me ‘Bicky’ – well, that was what it sounded like to me!

I was concerned that this might have an impact on formalised assessments. I found that when I did ‘recalling sentences’ that even though I said ‘last’ with my accent, the children would say it back to me in theirs ‘læst’. Alternatively, you can just learn what those differences are and adapt. I speak in an Australian accent, but will substitute some American pronunciations!

I did find that people had more difficulties understanding me on the telephone, so I just had to ‘over articulate’ and slow my speech rate down!

2. Vocabulary: Sometimes your word for something does not exist or has different meaning in another country. Or when ‘brand names’ are used but you don’t have that brand in your country, it can get pretty confusing. I made an SLP sheet for parents and asked them to ‘tick’ the box. The parent returned the form, but had crossed out ‘tick’ and wrote ‘check’, which is a word I would not use. After asking teachers, I learnt that ‘check’ was correct for an American audience. You pick these differences up pretty quickly, and some of the differences can be pretty amusing.

3. Spelling: There are some distinct spelling differences between American English and British English:

These include -or/-our as in color/colour, -er/re as in center/centre, -ize/ise as in realize/realise, -og/-ogue as in catalog/catalogue. There are a few more, but you get the idea. This matters when writing formalised/formalized reports and other professional things.

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One thought on “Accents: Does it Matter?

  1. A question I always asked myself as I have an Indian accent with some American substitutions. Thanks, it helps reading from another person’s perspective!

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