BlogBosses BlogHow understanding is affected by different accents

How understanding is affected by different accents

How understanding is affected by different accents

I recently came across this article which talks about how our brains process information when it is delivered by someone from another culture.

It is a fascinating insight into how our brains work, with the upshot being we are essentially lazy, preferring information to be supplied by someone who not only looks like us, but also talks like us with the same rhythms and cadences.

This may be a factor when language learners are looking to practise their new skills and come across listeners who really can’t understand what they are trying to get across, or when people from different cultures are trying to negotiate a business deal, for example.

One of the more interesting experiments looked at how students retained information delivered by lecturers from two different ethnic types. The information listened to was from a voiceover by a third person, whom the students did not see. Each “lecturer” was identically dressed in an identical setting, with just their faces showing the cultural difference. The information was the same voiceover played each time. Just from visual clues, the students’ brains had more difficulty retaining information from the Chinese lecturer rather than the Caucasian lecturer, automatically assuming that it would be more difficult to understand an apparent non-native speaker. "Basically, it showed that it's possible for people to hallucinate a foreign accent," Bauman says.

This fascinating research also went on to show that a foreign accent also made information seem less credible. "Accents require more cognitive effort to process," Lev-Ari says. "If something is easier to understand, we're more likely to retain it and see it as credible."

In the commercial world, trying to do business when your language skills are not at a high level could lead to difficulties that we are only marginally aware of at a subconscious level. With the information in this article in mind, it would seem even more sensible to take a professional interpreter to a crucial meeting or exhibition to ensure that culture and language don’t become more of a barrier. Having documents professionally translated would also ensure they were received as more authentic and trustworthy.

It’s certainly a fascinating article to consider, both for students and business people alike – the only solution being to “spend more time with people who act, look and speak differently from you” so that your brain can be trained to overcome this issue. As a multicultural company with links to many nationalities across the globe, we can certainly vouch for that approach!

Interested in our translation or interpreting services? Get in touch now on 0844 856 1086 or email


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