“Oh! You have a Spanish accent!”

Almost every nonnative Latin American/Hispanic English speaker in the U.S. has heard these words come out of a stranger’s mouth, even before any substantial conversation has taken place.

At this point, it seems as if people pay more attention to the way a nonnative English speaker pronounces words than the actual content of the conversation.

Opinion: Don't judge people by their accents

Rocha Gomez is a mathematics freshman and CommUNITY Voices columnist for The Shorthorn.

Oftentimes, Latin American individuals face harsh criticism and judgment arising from their nonstandard inflection or accent. Unfortunately, this may also lead to a deepened level of discrimination and alienation as unfair and hypocritical stereotypes come into play.

We have all seen videos of Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara before an audience, speaking with their distinctive accents (which a large number of Latinx people possess). Unfortunately, and sometimes subtly, the way certain syllables attain verbal stress by nonnative English speakers becomes the object of laughter or slight ridicule.

Even employment opportunities could be diminished for a Latinx person because of their accent. Research conducted by psychology professor Megumi Hosoda for the American Psychological Association explains how often times employment recruiters view Latin American accents negatively, even if the applicant is highly qualified, thus placing these applicants in a position of disadvantage. Given this, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission commonly reviews lawsuits related to foreign-accent discrimination.

And while some accents (like British) are deemed as elegant and sophisticated, nonstandard inflections such as Spanish and others seem to either undermine the speaker’s intellectual ability or, in some cases, get labeled as “sexy.” From an early age, students with a first language other than English become discouraged from communicating in such languages, directly inhibiting their freedom of expression.

Furthermore, non-English speakers are told to speak English because, “we’re in America.” This not only neglects that the U.S. does not have an official language, but similarly hinders nonnative speakers’ freedom of expression.

Such labeling and prejudice partially comes from subconscious processes, since a native English speaker comprehends less of what a nonnative speaker says because of the difference in accentuation.

In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, researchers Shiri Lev-Ari and Boaz Keysar asked undergraduate students to rate the credibility of a statement made by speakers with various foreign accents, predictably showing that those with a heavier accent were deemed as less believable.

Nevertheless, this research also concluded that the more a native English speaker is exposed to foreign inflections, the less prejudice they express. This shows that people may overcome discriminatory feelings, focusing on the what instead of the how.

Those who coerce speakers with a Latinx accent to speak in a “standard American accent” need to understand the differences in how they learned to enunciate vowels and consonants.


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(11) comments


You can use "Latino". It's ok.

I agree that being around people from various countries and backgrounds at UTA has helped me get better at understanding people's accents. In addition, attempting to learn a new language has helped me better understand the difficulties in communicating and correct pronunciation.

That said, I think when learning a language, you should do your utmost to not have a strong accent. Whatever the reason for not working on your accent, it can come off to native speakers as lazy.
It can seem that you don't care enough about the new country to learn its language, at least with a minimal accent so the native speakers can understand you without having to struggle.


I’ve had to email a professor about other people in the class making fun of the accent of a teaching assistant when they weren’t around. It’s totally unacceptable. Of course there are commenters who say it’s a problem that doesn’t exist; that’s likely because they’re either the ones being critical of those with accents or they don’t even care enough to notice, let alone empathize with, what people of other cultures go through. I’ve seen this all my life, first hand as the daughter of someone with an accent. I am curious to see if this correlates with what classes fill up first, classes with foreign named vs. non-foreign named instructors... after all, if the problem doesn’t exist, there shouldn’t be a difference, right?...


Assuming that my disagreeing with the idea its a problem means I must be a malicious actor or simply "don't care" about other cultures experiences is nonsense. I completely disagree this is a problem despite how I am sure SOMEONE has experienced it. We ALL experience some levels of discrimination. I'm a straight white male conservative on a college campus, if you don't think I experience some levels of discrimination then you are being disingenuous. However, I don't let that discrimination bother me. I don't let it define me. I don't demand people recognize what I go through and sympathize with me.

While I believe that to some degree your sentiment as well as the articles OP is born from a good place, I ultimately think it is at best making a mountain of a mole hill and at worst is simply not true.


Also, if there IS a difference that doesn't automatically suggest discrimination, or atleast not malicious discrimination. For instance, one of my math teachers had a very strong asian accent to the point I could barely understand what he is saying. Trying to interpret what he was saying plus learning the material was very difficult. Am I wrong if in future classes I would prefer to not have to interpret what my teacher is saying while also learning the material? No, I'm not. But its that type of thinking that further leads people to believe these ridiculous narratives of oppression where it doesn't exist.


Lol, I feel like some of these opinions articles really go out of their way to create problems that don't exist. Or if anything, this is just a signal of how woke they are.


You're creating problems where there is none. Who cares. Americans are just interested in you. Why are foreigners so lacking in self esteem? We don't need a bunch of mentally disturbed people who get mad at every slight social faux pas. Could be why your country blows, you guys worry about the little things and neglect the big things. Just go home if you can't handle it here.


“We don’t need a bunch of mentally disturbed people who get mad at every slight social faux pas” you’re right we’ve already got hundreds of thousands of people like that in America known as liberals. ;)


Your comment clearly shows that you lack the minimal level of understanding towards the problem.
I am no "creating a problem", I am pointing out a real issue that affect countless people in America. If you dont understand or empathize this that´s another story. A lot of people care about foreigners speaking with a non-standard accent in America. And this has nothing to do with self esteem, it has to do with some people harshly judging or discriminating against others based on the way they speak. And again, I am not "getting man" and especially not towards "every social faux pas", I am simply highlighting a problem; what´s so wrong about that?
Your comment just proves how you completely missed the point and ignored facts. I think you should go read another sections of the Shorthorn if you can´t handle the opinion section.


You can point to any amount of anecdotes for literally any "problem" and claim that it now exists and is a big deal and therefore needs to be pointed out. While I can recognize that SOMEONE foreign has heard those words, I highly doubt its something everyone of them has heard, or even most, or even many. In fact, many jobs off foriegners bonus points in hiring processes due to speaking more than one language, or being a color other than white, which is the reverse of being discriminated against.


I am fascinated by accents so I read your post. You do seem to make it more about the negative. I would like to see a more balanced article. I know there are also 'countless examples' of positives.
Negan and Creata make good points also. Your reply to Negan seems a little defensive, and I begin to wonder if this opinion post is just bait for trolling... I hope not.
Discrimination is ugly, and we all are guilty of it in some way, or hindered by it at some point in our lives. Don't kid yourself. We are human. Humans are flawed. Take adversity and learn from it, grow stronger because of it, and find a way to turn it to your advantage.
That is an article from which we could all benefit.


Dude, you're speaking very dramatically about a non-issue. "Countless people". You're writing in the opinion sections, this is where you will get the most heat. There are tons of other stories to dig up, pretty dramatic ones if you ask me. Muslim Student Association ties to Muslim Brotherhood, funding out of Saudi Arabia, right here on campus. I'd suggest you go dig, but if you do be careful. They are being monitored.

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