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Accent Monitoring: Innovation Or Rights Violation?

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the do-you-understand-the-words-that-are-coming-out-of-my-mouth? dept.

Education 448

theodp writes "After almost a decade of sending monitors to classrooms across the state to check on teachers' articulation, the NY Times' Marc Lacey reports that a federal investigation of possible civil rights violations has prompted Arizona to call off its accent police. The teachers who were found to have strong accents were not fired, but their school districts were required to work with them to improve their speech. Interestingly, one person's civil rights violation is another's 'wonderful little phenomenon', which is how PBS described the accent neutralization classes attended by Bangalore call center workers who worked for the likes of IBM and Microsoft. On its website, IBM Daksh notes that 'To make sure that customers all over the world can understand the way our people speak, every new hire is trained in what we call voice and accent neutralization.' So, is accent monitoring and neutralization a civil right violation, as the U.S. Depts. of Justice and Education suggest, or is it an 'innovation', as IBM argues?"

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448 comments

Civil rights violation to be asked to speak clear? (3, Insightful)

backslashdot (95548) | about 2 years ago | (#37510722)

WTF .. is this real? Wait, how about the language itself .. As a Vulcan, why shouldn't I have the right to teach an English Literature class in Vulcan ? .. And why should I be forced to teach English Literature if I don't know it .. so how about I teach physics in my English literature class, in Vulcan?

And to the DOE and DOJ, I ask how about coming up with ideas that make sense? My civil right to mental clarity and logic is being violated.

Context (4, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510790)

Innovation or violation?

Once again, context is everything.

"clear" is an interesting judgement call. I am pretty sure that when used by the state in Arizona, this amounted to selective cultural bias and harassment. That would be constant with the other developments in that benighted corner of the US.

I bet if you talk like Andy Devine or Beauford T. Pusser, no one in Arizona schools bats an eye at your "accent" or worries about the "clarity" of pronunciation.

Re:Context (3, Interesting)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510988)

Innovation or violation?

It's interesting as well, because there is a difference in the application of the accent neutralization. The phone support providers are private employers, while the schools are public employers. As such public employers are restricted to certain conditions that private employers are not, because the public employers are both government and an employer.

The Supreme Court has held that discrimination even by private employers based on not speaking English is only permissible when English skill is absolutely necessary to perform their job, because otherwise it is discrimination based on national origin (which is illegal).

Therefore forced "accent neutralization" is clearly a discrimination based on national origin. So the immediate requirement is a necessity to show that it is absolutely necessary for job performance.

Of course, Indian call centers aren't beholden to US law anyways, so even if it is a violation, it doesn't matter because in their country, it is not a violation. Of course, the Indian call center workers are also paid less than the US federal minimum wage, but it's not a "violation" because it's in another country. So, why can't it be both? Or context/country sensitive?

Re:Context (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511006)

You mean having students be able to clearly understand their teacher is not absolutely necessary to perform their job???

WTF?

Re:Context (2)

digitig (1056110) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511248)

No, he means that accent can be used as an excuse to harass teachers who can be understood perfectly well but are not the "right" ethnic group.

Yes, sometimes something needs to be done about a person's accent. I work in an international context so I'm used to dealing with accents, but I sometimes end up with a call-centre worker that I can't understand at all. If this picks that up and they get help then that's good all round. If they ignore it because the person with the accent is the right caste, whilst using it as an excuse to make life difficult for excellent call-centre workers (yes, I've dealt with some) who are the wrong caste then it's just as bad as if they do much the same with Arizona teachers. Is it such a radical concept that something can be used for both good and bad purposes?

Re:Context (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511050)

National origin? I guess it could be used that way. But what if they targeted a teacher with a New Jersey accent, or possibly a Mississippi one? Perhaps some harsh "tall corn" accent? Any of those can be as much of an impediment to understanding as a "parents immigrated from Mexico and I was born in East LA" accent - which would be the "National Origin" you are probably talking about. Years ago, when I was first starting in the business world I worked at a helpdesk that supported point of sale at gas stations all around the US and Canada. The first couple of sentences of each call was spent trying to understand the accents of the folks calling. This was honestly no joke - probably the first sentence they said you didn't follow and had to ask them to repeat it. You went from the "East LA" accent to some "just in from Cuba" ones in Florida to the "aboot" in areas in Canada to some older person in Mississippi who you couldn't tell if they were a man or a woman (as they sounded like they had been smoking for 50 years and had a really scratchy drawl). It honestly is difficult to switch your ears and understanding back and forth so it would be optimal to have all of the teachers in the school at least speaking something close to the same accent.

Re:Context (0)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511142)

...it would be optimal to have all of the teachers in the school at least speaking something close to the same accent.

It would also be optimal to have all the teachers have identical religious beliefs, and heck, even identical appearances. (Yeah, it's convoluted.) The point is that we can't ever achieve "optimal", and forcing things to "optimal" just because its the "best choice" is actually almost automatically a violation of human rights. For instance it definitely would be optimal for all the teachers to have their gonads removed... then you would never have to worry about them getting pregnant, getting anyone else pregnant, and actually, it would remove nearly all of their sex drive, so the rates of inappropriate teacher/student relationships would certainly go down.

Re:Context (0)

halowolf (692775) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510992)

Well if it means that everyone in the call centre I talk to sounds like the torturer from the Three Kings movie then I'm not sure. I swear, it was uncanny I could barely contain myself from bursting out laughing. While many of the customers on that particular support line would of been American, I was not.

But I have to admit, I did understand everything he said perfectly, I guess I really was his main man at that point.

Re:Context (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511150)

>would of

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Re:Context (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511260)

Actually, some levels of clear are not judgement calls. Some "accents" are simply lazy nonsense. As a man once married to a filipina, I can attest that a huge portion is just mental laziness. If a person can hear when their accent is being mimicked, then they know when they are saying it wrong. The mix of F and P sounds is simply ridiculous as the sounds are not even remotely the same. Worse, when she heard a word for the first time, she would mentally spell it in her mind and then pronounce it "her way" despite that the first time encountering a word was audible rather than written.

Some accents are beyond understandable and tries the patience of all who try to listen.

And as someone who has a great deal of experience learning and dealing with the Japanese and Mandarin languages, I can say without any reservation that different people hear things in different ways. US English speakers hear consonant sounds primarily while Japanese hear vowel sounds primarily. And, of course, Mandarin speakers hear pitch primarily, so that's a whole other thing.

While taking a Japanese language class, one of my classmates was British. He insisted on speaking his form of Japanese with his British accent. And so I had to ask him, "what good is it to learn to speak a language when the people won't understand you because you keep changing the sounds of the vowels?" This, of course, brings me to my main point in all of this.

If the people you speak to cannot understand you, then your accent is most assuredly a self-imposed handicap. If you can't do it right, you might as well not do it at all, in my opinion. Personally, I am rather good at understanding even the strongest of accents but I am very sympathetic to those who aren't as good at listening as I know very well what it means to a straining mind to lose a transfer of information because the data stream is difficult to decode rapidly enough.

And when we are talking about school teachers with accents, we are talking about young minds which are already straining to learn their new material, now we have to strain their minds further by making it more difficult for them to understand what is being taught? Which is worse? To ensure the best potential for student education or to coddle self-imposed linguistic handicaps of a smaller group of people? We need to look to the future and not hold education back any more than necessary. And if IMPROVING a NECESSARY SKILL is a rights violation, then we might as well stop teaching English in public schools, forget about spelling and grammar or anything where linguistic skills count.

If teachers can't speak, how will students?

Re:Civil rights violation to be asked to speak cle (1)

wembley fraggle (78346) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510854)

I am pretty sure you should have used "clearly" in that post title. Which might be just a teensy bit ironic. Not sure.

Re:Civil rights violation to be asked to speak cle (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510938)

I am pretty sure you should have used "clearly" in that post title. Which might be just a teensy bit ironic. Not sure.

That's okay, Avril - we already knew you didn't write your own songs.

Re:Civil rights violation to be asked to speak cle (1)

lvxferre (2470098) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510920)

It's not civil right violation to be asked to speak clear, but it is to be pressed to speak without your native accent. It's not about teaching Shakespeare in Vulcan, it's about being able to teach it in Texan English, Hiberno English, Canadian English or whatever.

Murikah (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#37510744)

As a foreigner, i completely support that. If you have that strong of an accent such that people cannot understand you, you have a problem. Independent of whether you're a foreigner or not, I can't understand ~10% of the people I meet on a daily basis. In rome, do the romans!

Re:Murikah (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510822)

In rome, do the romans!

In Rome, I do anybody with two tits and a pulse

Re:Murikah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510934)

Although a pulse is unnecesary.. and maybe just >1 tits will suffice

Re:Murikah (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511256)

Remind me not to go to Rome until I get rid of these moobs.

Re:Murikah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511146)

In rome, do the romans!

I find this statement completely hilarious.

LOL (1)

masternerdguy (2468142) | about 2 years ago | (#37510748)

"Sorry, but you sound kind of funny, go take this class and we'll try again"

Re:LOL (5, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510932)

"Sorry, but you sound kind of funny, go take this class and we'll try again"

What's wrong with that? There is a serious problem understanding some accents, to the point where it impairs understanding and become a block to learning.

I personally have a very difficult time understanding the sing song English speech of people from India. And I'm not alone.
If I were trying to learn anything, such as taking a class, I would be at a huge disadvantage.

If every kid in the class is giving each other the "Whaddie Say" head twist you aren't getting your money's worth.
The kids are getting cheated, as well as the tax payer.

A slight accent that does not impair understanding isn't what these monitors were looking for.
The ability to communicate is paramount for a teacher. They were there to make sure the kids weren't
being taught improper english, and that they were able to understand the lesson.

Lemmy AXE you dis?
Where would YOU draw the line?

Re:LOL (1)

bipbop (1144919) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511140)

One time, my company brought over coworkers from an Australian office. I was supposed to help them, but I couldn't understand them half the time! Less than 24 hours later, the accent clicked for me mentally, and suddenly I couldn't imagine how I failed to understand them before.

Let me ask you a hypothetical question: let's say you're from an English-speaking country other than Australia, you have trouble understanding an Australian accent, and your boss sends you to Australia for a week. Let's also say, for some reason, the company doesn't want to give you six months' advance notice, a vocal coach, and listening comprehension classes. Would you seriously tell your boss you can't do the job? Or would you adapt?

Personally, I doubt many people are incapable of adapting. I think it's more likely to be either laziness or bigotry speaking, when someone protests an accent. If you worked with Indians for any length of time, I doubt you'd have any problem understanding them, unless you have a cognitive deficit of some sort.

Re:LOL (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511210)

Where would YOU draw the line?

Probably at two Utes.

Re:LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511218)

What's wrong with it is that in the real world you are going to have to learn to deal with people who have accents. Sometimes that will put you at a disadvantage. And you won't be able to say, "Oh, you need to learn proper English." School teaches more than just the subject matter.

The whole thing is absurd, though. I've never ever met anyone who couldn't get used to a teacher's accent and quickly. Maybe instead of limiting the pool of qualified teachers we should instead consider that those who can't learn from such teachers have some type of disability and get those few individuals the help they need.

I guess it depends on the politics of the State (-1, Flamebait)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510754)

I expect that it would be seen as a great idea if a Democrat-controlled State had thought of it.

Alas, a Republican-controlled State thought of it, so it's evil.

Until the Republicans get control of the Federal government, at least. After that, it'll only be evil if a Democrat-controlled State suggests it.

That said, I approve of the idea in general. There's not a really good reason why students should have to wade through the teacher's accent to figure out what she's saying.

Plus we get the added benefit of teaching the kids to speak intelligibly. I expect that's needed in Arizona.

And I know it's needed in Louisiana. No, not because of the Mexicans, because of the Cajuns - I've lived here 20+ years, and still can't understand someone with a thick Cajun accent.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510796)

No, it's a stupid idea, no matter who thought of it. Look, I grew up in Texas and Florida. One of my English teachers had such a thick Southern drawl that even for 'native' speakers it was sometimes a bit hard to figure out what she was saying. I survived. So, I imagine, did everyone else. I even survived learning Russian from a teacher with a pronounced Mexican accent.

It's just racism, plain and simple.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510860)

Couldn't possibly be a problem for the gringos. Never could be. Nope, never ever could be. Couldn't be that in a school with mexican gangs that it reinforced the perception by white students that they're being encircles and pushed out. A little fuckign common sense is in order here. Once you get outside of the nice parts of the three big cities, Arizona has a seriosu racism problem, and it cuts both ways. The real problem isn't the illegals; it's the Chicano parents who refuse to teach their children English. Funny how the korean kids got smacked if they spoke Korean at home, and I got smacked if I spoke Chinese, but the Chicano parents didn't bother to learn the fucking language, much less encourage their kids to speak English. For fuck's sake, if Arnold can learn English, anybody can.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (2)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510924)

Time is all that's needed. My grandmother called my mom her "little anchor baby" (in Spanish of course). My mother speaks decent English despite the fact that her mom only wanted to teach her Spanish. There wasn't a way around learning English when you're surrounded by it daily. The long and short of it is this: I'm a second generation American, speak abysmal Spanish, and despite my olive skin am as much of a Star Wars loving George Lucas hatin' gringo as the rest of you. Just give it a few generations and we'll be complaining about those damned Englishmen who take all of the jobs and refuse to learn English.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (2)

theArtificial (613980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510880)

I prefer learning a language from a native speaker (but we don't all have that luxury) however being critical of how someone speaks is not racism. People who cannot speak clearly are in teaching positions where clarity matters, surprisingly someone has an issue with this, story at 11.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (2)

jrumney (197329) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511010)

however being critical of how someone speaks is not racism.

It depends on the people you select to be critical of. If they are all African-American or Hispanic, while the teacher from Glasgow gets off scott free, then yes, it probably is racism.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510916)

try learning complex engineering topics from a professor whose babble sounds like one of those NPC characters from an indiana jones movie. oh and the chicken scratch handwriting rounds out the experience....oh and I"m paying this lacky's salary. he might even be a good engineer but he shouldn't be teaching here... he should be teaching in india.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (4, Interesting)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510824)

It's embarrassing for the teacher, and embarrassing for the students.

I took a chem class in college where the professor was just horrible at teaching. I don't know if he just didn't give a damn, or if he was just a really bad teacher who did really good grant work, who knows. Either way, it was well known that you basically had to bring a list of "what the fuck was he talking about" topics to your discussion classes to ask the TAs to explain. I had a brilliant TA who who was saddled with the thickest indian accent I've encountered in my entire life. We'd ask him to explain a topic, and he'd explain, and none of us would understand his accent, we'd sheepishly ask him to repeat again, and he'd just speak louder.

I actually talked to a bunch of the other students about it after class, and we were all releaved to find out we were experiencing the same problem. none of us could understand the guy. We all agreed that when we could cut through the accent, we thought he was much better at explaining the concepts than the teacher, and he certainly knew what he was talking about, but at least half the time it was almost like he wasn't speaking the same language as us.

Now, that's just a single TA in a class that had A. the professor, and B. other TAs to ask questions to. If this was a single teacher instructing the class, and that person was all the class had to turn to for explanation of the topic, say what you want... a lot of people are going to fail that class who otherwise shouldn't have.

I'm not sure how widespread a problem it is, since I only encountered it once in my life, but "people's feelings" be damned, it WAS a problem.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (1)

Macgrrl (762836) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510890)

I had a similar problem at University, our structural engineering lecturer had a thick accent and interesting pronuciations, we would be sitting there with our text books trying to work out if the word he used was a new term we had to learn or an existing one we should already know.

From memory I was one of about 15 people in my entire year that passed the course, and that was primarily due to my residential college having additional tutoring available.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510910)

It depends on the locale and local culture.

I was in Antigua and while everyone there spoke english as the primary language, they had both a tourist and a local accent, the tourist one had a bit of carribean flavor to it, but was pretty clear, at least to me as a Californian. HOWEVER, the 'native' antiguan accent that tended to be spoken between people there when not talking for a tourist's benefit was, at least for me, LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE to cut through. They pronounced a number of consonants much softer than in tourist english, and to a degree that was almost like listening to japanese (which I am not proficient in, in large part due to being unable to correctly catch all the sounds being spoken), a number of words blurring together or dropping out of my range of hearing.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (2, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510892)

Republicans, you mean the same ones that want to roll back various civil rights legislation and voting protections? Don't you think that the repeated attempts to disenfranchise minority voters has something to do with the interpretation?

It's easy to pretend like motivation doesn't have anything to do with it, but at the end of the day if you come from a party that's known for racist behavior it can take a long time for the reputation to die. Even longer if you're actively encouraging it with overtly xenophobic rhetoric.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (0)

egamma (572162) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510984)

Republicans, you mean the same ones that want to roll back various civil rights legislation and voting protections?

You mean the ones that voted for the Civil Rights act of 1964?

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511064)

The "same ones" from the earlier poster's comment were, what, ten year olds 1964?

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511080)

Yeah, it's 2011 now.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511100)

It's easy to pretend like motivation doesn't have anything to do with it, but at the end of the day if you come from a party that's known for racist behavior it can take a long time for the reputation to die. Even longer if you're actively encouraging it with overtly xenophobic rhetoric.

Didn't take long for people to forget that the Democrats were the racism party.

Re:I guess it depends on the politics of the State (5, Funny)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511022)

BZZZT! I'm sorry, that's incorrect!

If the Democrats did it, The Republicans would say it's a leftist nanny state plot to interfere in our lives and destroy American individualism.

If If the Republicans did it, the Democrats would call it a xenophobic fascist conformism.

Either way, the Libertarians would insist that if the kids want an education, they can go work in the copper mines and hire a private tutor on their own time. The free market will fix it, it fixes everything.

According to the Tea party, nobody should do it, they're taxing me, we gotta quit taxing people and handing out these accent subsidies! Now where's my damned medicare check?

Thank you for playing KNOW YOUR POLITICAL MEME!

depends (2)

Dthief (1700318) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510756)

in india its innovation

in the US its a civil rights issue

No, and no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510758)

Civil rights is for when you're in a government job ... innovation is for private corporations overseas (keyword).

Government action vs. Corporate Action. (2)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510760)

If a corporation hires you to stand on the street swinging a sign in a tutu, they are allowed. Nothing about asking people to speak in a way that maximizes profits is a violation of civil rights. However government action requiring people speak in a specific way because they want people to talk that way is a potential problem.

Re:Government action vs. Corporate Action. (1)

Dinghy (2233934) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510906)

If a corporation hiring people is allowed to have accent neutralization requirements, then the government hiring people should be able to have the same requirements. A teacher who can't be understood can't teach anything. What some people call racism and profiling, others will call enabling success in education. There was nothing about forcing non-employees to speak without an accent.

Re:Government action vs. Corporate Action. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510918)

That's bullshit and trying to engage in that in the US would definitely end with an eventual discrimination law suit. An accent is a part of a person and ultimately, corporations that pressure employees to drop their accent run the risk of being sued.

Now, in cases where it's a very thick accent that is demonstrably getting in the way of conducting business, as the employer you might be able to get away with it, but even then it's risky business.

OTOH, when call centers do that in India or other countries, US law doesn't have anything to do with it.

Difference between a Government Department & C (0)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510776)

So, is accent monitoring and neutralization a civil right violation, as the U.S. Depts. of Justice and Education suggest, or is it an 'innovation', as IBM argues?"

Does theodp not realise that there is a difference between a government department and a private international organisation?

Or that perhaps voice training in Bangalore is not covered by US civil rights legislation?

Mod this submission -1 flamebait please.

Re:Difference between a Government Department & (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510930)

Government versus private entity isn't relevant, however US versus Indian law is very important indeed. Given what a cash cow call centers are in India, I'd be surprised if it wasn't legal.

it's all been done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510792)

If it was fine when the phone company did it to train their operators to speak unaccented english, then it should be fine for the schools to require their teachers to do so as well. If an english teacher has an excessive accent, that may be especially problematic. Even non-language teachers should be able to communicate effectively. The extreme case of this is the college T.A., who like the cabby, speaks fewer than 100 words of english; and those, heavily accented.

Re:it's all been done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511036)

If it was fine when the phone company did it to train their operators to speak unaccented english,

What is this 'unaccented English' of which you speak?

I don't have an accent. But, I doubt you would agree, since I'm a native English speaker from a non-North American country. To me, YOU have the accent, and I don't. To you, I have the accent, and you don't.

Everyone has an accent.

Both? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510794)

Why can't it be both an innovation and a civil rights violation?

Neutralization an offense? (5, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510802)

No. If you are paid to talk to people on the phone, you need to be clear. People whose accents are too heavy - even if they know their stuff - can be incoherent to callers. The employer isn't forcing them to talk that way outside of work, or necessarily even when not on the phone.

In other words, their neutralized accent is a job tool. It is no more a rights violation than being expected to know how to use MS Word.

Re:Neutralization an offense? (2)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510870)

My worst run-in with an accent was my matrix algebra class, where the teacher quite clearly knew what she was talking about, but you couldn't hear and comprehend a word of it because of her thick Asian accent. Regrettably, I have since determined that there's a whole lot of awesome stuff that you can do with matrix algebra (e.g. approximate nonnegative matrix factorization) and I wish that I'd been able to absorb more of that material. :(

So yeah, there's definitely a spot where a heavy accent becomes damaging to your ability to communicate, and especially to teach. The premise is reasonable -- the implementation, of course, has plenty of room to be suspect.

Re:Neutralization an offense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511058)

I have a similar story of a thick Chinese accent in calculus with complex numbers. The professor knew his limitations, however, and wrote keywords on the board as he said them, Despite the fact that he barely spoke English, he was very effective at communicating. He turned out to be one of the best instructors that I encountered at university.

Re:Neutralization an offense? (1)

KermodeBear (738243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511024)

My Calculus II instructor was from China. I never could tell if he could speak English or not because his accent was so incredibly thick that it wouldn't have mattered. His students contacted the math department on multiple occasions and, instead of addressing the problem, we were told that we were inconsiderate and intolerant.

No, sorry, we were not being intolerant. We simply couldn't understand anything he said.

Needless to say we all fared quite poorly in his classes.

Just one more reason not to send your kid to Miami U. of Ohio.

Also consider how bad it is for non-native speaker (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511034)

We have this problem at my university. Particularly with grad students, we get some with very, very heavy accents and garbled English. Ok well maybe you could try and argue this would all be fine if all the foreign students were from the same place. To them, the accent would be "normal" and you could say the native English speakers need to suck it up and deal, since when you natively speak the language dealing with accents is easier.

Things is, that's not the case. We have students from China, India, Europe, the Middle East, and so on. All of course have different accents, different problems with the language. So how fair is it to the undergrad from Kuwait to ask him to not just learn a second language, but then be able to deal with a Chinese grad student who is badly mispronouncing it, and then an Indian grad student doing the same, but in a different way?

Then think about the same situation for primary education, when language skills are less developed. How fair would it be to a third grader who immigrated from Mexico, who's still working on language in general never mind English, to be taught by someone who has a heavy Chinese accent and speech errors? How well do you think that child will learn?

Singled out = discrimination (1)

buback (144189) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510808)

I think a key here is that the employees are being singled out. if every teacher had to attend an accent-nomalization class, there is no discrimination.

In fact, the summary even states that this is exactly what IBM did.

Re:Singled out = discrimination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510846)

So we should send teachers who don't need it to this to waste their time. That makes sense, problem solved.

Re:Singled out = discrimination (1)

buback (144189) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510896)

Not saying it makes a lot of sense, but it's the law.

'Cause otherwise, we might as well institute this at the Federal level. Everyone must conform to the Federal way of speaking, which should be standardized as Washington DC/Mid-Atlantic accent. This is the accent of most mass market, national media, as well as the accent of our seat of government.

Re:Singled out = discrimination (2)

igreaterthanu (1942456) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510950)

It's simple, everyone goes to the class until they pass it. If a teacher already has a clear accent, they immediately pass and don't have to go back.

It depends (4, Insightful)

ironjaw33 (1645357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510814)

If nobody can understand what a teacher is saying, then how much benefit do the students get from that teacher? Those students may be better off staying home and reading a book. Plenty of college professors fall into this category, but most of them aren't hired based on their teaching ability. For those whose job descriptions include communication, a thick unintelligible accent can be a serious hindrance.

That said, if someone has a trace of an accent but he or she is completely understandable, then there shouldn't be a problem. Some of the examples given in TFA I would consider ridiculous. But, if parents are complaining that their children can't understand their teachers, a remedial course to mitigate a thick accent might be beneficial.

Re:It depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511224)

My brother had to leave a chemistry class in college or else fail. It was taught by a grad student from the middle east. He can almost not understand her, and she is timid/shy and it breaks up her speach further. Nothing she covered or said they should know was ever related to the labs.

Re:It depends (1)

phantomlord (38815) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511242)

I had a professor that taught M68k assembly to first year computer engineering students... when class started, he had just gotten back from spending the summer term back in India and his accent was so thick, nobody in the class could really understand him. On top of that, he struggled for words to help students relate to basic processor fundamentals, not being able to think of the terms like "post office box" when talking about registers. Despite the supposed pre-reqs to even get accepted maybe 2 of us in that class of 35 or so even knew what binary numbers were, so when it came time to actually take what we learned in class and implement it in a lab setting, all but a couple of us were completely lost and the vast majority of them failed the lab and class.

I don't care if the guy was Indian or whatever, but he was being paid to teach the students, which he was clearly unable to do. Those of us that had some previous experience (I knew x86 assembly, so learning the m68k flavor was fairly trivial) managed to get by, but for most students, the money they spent on tuition for that class was an utter waste. Sure, you could argue that they should have leaned more heavily on the book and taught themselves, but despite the $100 the book cost, they still spent somewhere around $4k on the credit hours they dedicated to that professor's class. As for why I didn't help the others much, I was busy working full time to pay for college so I wouldn't come out with a ton of debt, so it's not like I could afford to dedicate all of my time to teaching people what he should have been.

Bubba and LaQueefa need such classes. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510816)

When your accent is a speech impediment, you have a problem.

Re:Bubba and LaQueefa need such classes. (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510914)

Qualification: when your accent is a speech impediment for people not from your neck of the woods, then you have a problem.

I certainly wouldn't speak for any of my former classmates, but when I was in school and learning to write and speak English, ACCURACY was my goal, and I had a high expectation. The result is that anyone who reads or understands English will be able to fundamentally understand (if not comprehend) me. I paid a heavy price for it: slow cursive and block-letter handwriting speeds and the need to subvocalize everything I read or write. I doubt the expectations of my classmates were nearly so rigorous, and the result is that their handwriting is often illegible and people not from their 'hood may think they're speaking gibberish.

Just last week I wound up speaking with a tier-1 support specialist who was clearly in India, obvious not only because the VOIP connection was horrid but because her English pronunciation was so distorted by her accent carried over from her native tongue that I could understand only a third of what she said.

My best English teacher had an accent (2)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510826)

"So, is accent monitoring and neutralization a civil right violation, as the U.S. Depts. of Justice and Education suggest, or is it an 'innovation', as IBM argues?"

Provided the individual is easily understood an accent is utterly irrelevant save for some language classes. One of the best teachers I ever had was Mr. Tsang, my AP English teacher. Nearly 20 years later I still remember examining Shakespeare and Kafka in that class. If you had older siblings or friends who had taken his class he was always recommended. He also had a heavy Chinese accent; when he was in his teens he and his family fled from the Cultural Revolution in the PRC.

It's a reasonable requirement (2)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510834)

I'm a resident alien in the U.S. I do speak English with an accent, though mine is much milder than that of most of my compatriots. Regardless, if I were aspiring to teach children of native English speakers in a school in a country where English is the majority and de-facto standard language, I would expect to be required to conform to certain norms regarding pronunciation. This is especially true in junior school, where children are still learning to speak right and rapidly acquiring vocabulary, and being exposed to a strong accent may undesirably affect their speech patterns.

Also what some people call an accent (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511090)

Is even more serious. I work at a university with lots of foreign students so I get a lot of exposure to accents of all types. However for a good number of our foreign grad students, it goes beyond just an accent, it is straight out poor English skills. The easy way to tell is if the "accent" continues in e-mail, the written word. You, for example, do not. Your written word gives away no hint that you have anything but a mastery of the language. Someone would need to hear you speak to determine that you weren't a native speaker.

However we have plenty of students that is not the case for. They send in an e-mail for support that, well, has an accent. The language is misused and done so in a particular way that you can hear it in your head in the accent. Verbs are incorrectly conjugated, word order is mixed up, terms are used improperly and so on.

That isn't just an "accent" that means their English skills are poor. However you'll see people try to pass it off as such. "Oh they just don't like my accent." No, that isn't the real problem, the problem is you are improperly using the language. You are trying to lean on the fact that you are not a native speaker as an excuse for not improving your skills.

Re:It's a reasonable requirement (2)

Mr. Shiny And New (525071) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511110)

My 3 year old daughter goes to daycare where her current teachers are both non-native speakers (one from China, one from a slavic country) and the both have an accent. It is not harming her speech at all, she learns new words just fine. Sometimes she learns them improperly but they get corrected in short order. The key is that children hear language from many different sources and incorporate all of it, not just the one or two teachers with an accent. So I think this whole accent thing is quite overblown.

whose civil rights? the teachers or the students? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510852)

If the speech of two people is not mutually intelligible, they are not going to be able to communicate effectively, which is sort of the whole point of them using a common language.

People with heavy accents that wish to improve their communication skills should be able to take these innovative classes. It improves their value to that market.

On the other hand, public school kids should not be stuck with teachers that lack the skills to communicate effectively. This applies to teachers with unintelligible accents as well as those who are simply incompetent. If the bad teachers are not rehabilitated, the students are being denied equal access to education.

Is That All? (1)

chill (34294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510874)

Just accents? How about handwriting.

I remember my first day in Calculus 2 in University. Half-a-dozen of us were in class, waiting on the professor and discussing what was taught in the class in the prior hour.

All four walls had blackboards that were covered in a scrawl. Our best guess was Hebrew or another Semitic language.

Then the professor walks in and asks "have you copied down everything from the boards, yet?" We were dumbfounded. His handwriting made the average doctor look like a penmanship winner.

Three of us passed that semester. The rest gave up in despair.

college (1, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510884)

As a reality check, maybe we should compare with what happens at the college level. At US research universities, you get profs and TAs who are there because of their research. Many of them have strong accents. With grad students, it's common to assign the ones with really unintelligible accents to grade papers rather than to TA discussion sections or labs. When it comes to profs, I'm sure you can find people who will recount horror stories of unintelligible lecturers, but in reality I think that's very uncommon. It's not unusual to find profs who have strong accents, and in some cases they may be strong enough that they are initially difficult to understand, but in almost all cases students learn to understand their accents fairly rapidly. The key here is that these people are highly educated, they've usually done most or all of their higher education in English, and they use English all day long. They may pronounce "th" as "d," but they are smart people who know how to use words precisely. It works. Nothing bad happens (except in a tiny minority of cases).

So if it's good enough for Berkeley or Harvard, why is it not good enough for an elementary school in Phoenix?

Of course the answer is that this isn't really about the quality of teaching, it's about xenophobia.

BTW, kids don't emulate their teachers' accents. They generally make fun of them. They get their accents from their friends, from TV, from music, and, to a lesser extent, from the people they interact with in the community.

The real issue is whether these teachers use correct grammar and diction, know how to punctuate a sentence, etc. That has nothing to do with their accents. We already have mechanisms for making sure that people who teach our kids to write an essay are able to write a good essay themselves. These mechanisms don't always work (mainly because market forces make it impossible to set the bar too high), but that has nothing to do with accents.

The slashdot story's comparison with Indian call center workers is ridiculous. When you're on the phone with someone you've never met, it's much harder to understand that person's accented speech than it would be in person with someone you were familiar with. The call center workers' job consists of nothing but talking to people on the phone, all day. Of course it's a bigger deal for them to have neutral accents.

Not to mention Jobs (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510944)

Not just college; jobs nowadays often require working with people who have accents as well. I grew up in Idaho and never had to deal with accents. (Actually quite a few Hispanic farm workers lived in the area, but they might as well have been on another planet; I never got to know even one of them). Now I can't understand accents at all. It can be embarrassing, giving a seminar and not understanding a question, or not understanding a stewardess on an international flight. Oh look, a hick!

Yes, I can imagine a case where a teacher's English is so bad it is a real impediment to learning. But I would only agree to taking action in pretty extreme cases.

Re:Not to mention Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511078)

This also applies in Japan. Most Japanese people have never (yes, you heard right, never ever) heard Japanese spoken with a non-native accent. When they do, surprise surprise, a lot of them can't understand it. This is deeply, deeply annoying when you know that what you're saying is correct and the person you're talking to is just too insular to be able to understand you.

Japan: More immigration needed. Film at 11.

Of course, that's what the Ministry of Finance is already saying ("we require more vespene gas^W^W^W600,000 immigrants a year just to maintain the current tax payment level"). The Ministry of Justice (the one actually responsible for immigration) disagrees. There may be fireworks ahead...

Re:college (1)

daknapp (156051) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511094)

Of course the answer is that this isn't really about the quality of teaching, it's about xenophobia.

Your mind-reading ability is astonishing! Somehow you are able to get into the minds of the people involved and you know their motivation! Have you ever considered running for office?

Actually, there is a very good psychological term for what you are doing here. It's called projection. Since you would do this from some xenophobic motivation, you assume that everyone else must, as well, since it's impossible to imagine people who think differently than you do.

Re:college (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511134)

So if it's good enough for Berkeley or Harvard, why is it not good enough for an elementary school in Phoenix?

Are you serious? To answer your question, because you are teaching to 7 year olds, not university students. Because for a second grader it is far more important that you be clearly understood than how deep your understanding of the subject is. Because a second grader has only been speaking English for about 6 years, not 17.

Re:college (2)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511144)

"So if it's good enough for Berkeley or Harvard, why is it not good enough for an elementary school in Phoenix?"

Well, perhaps because those students do not have fully developed language skills, and many of them may be of more modest intelligence. That someone who has completely primary education, and tested highly can understand something doesn't mean a child who is still being taught can do so nearly as well. Someone going to Harvard has completed most of the English education, their principal mental development, and is likely a standard deviation above the mean or more in intelligence. You cannot compare them to an elementary student, particularly one who might be learning disabled.

Also please consider that there isn't "an" English accent, there are different ones based on the native language of the speaker. It is also much harder for a non-native speaker with one accent to understand a non-native speaker with another. So if you have a teacher with a strong accent who is different form the ESL children in their class, that is an additional barrier to those children.

It can also be pretty bad, perhaps you've not been to a campus with a large number of foreign students but I happen to work on one in a department that has that. I can go on for days with stories of the various problems language barriers have caused but the one most relevant to education:

Our student workers are frequently undergraduate students in our department. Makes sense. One of them was complaining because his TA kept marking down his homework because the TA didn't understand what he was saying. I had a look and confirmed this. The TA was grading his English, taking away points for words the TA believed were incorrect. However in every case the word was a real word, was spelled correct, and was used properly in the sentence. The problem was the TA's English skills were poor, whereas our student's English skills were extremely good.

Unfortunately I could not convince our student to appeal this to the department and attempt to get the TA slapped down. In his case, no real harm done. He got As anyhow since he was a very smart individual and he knew his TA to be incorrect. However consider this with, say, a student who is foreign but speaks a different primary language from the TA, who is being given incorrect instruction or, more relevant to this story, a child who's language skills are still under development.

Re:college (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511208)

So if it's good enough for Berkeley or Harvard, why is it not good enough for an elementary school in Phoenix?

Because the university student is eighteen to twenty years old and the third grade student nine?

The call center workers' job consists of nothing but talking to people on the phone, all day. Of course it's a bigger deal for them to have neutral accents.

What do you think the grade school teacher is doing all day?

English accents sound sexy (3, Funny)

buback (144189) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510940)

I applaud the efforts of the Arizona officials. A smooth English accent makes the speaker sound smarter and more attractive. I hope my children can learn to speak with English accents instead of the muddled Mid-Atlantic American that is so common in these parts.

Re:English accents sound sexy (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510956)

The United States is made mostly of non-indigenous people. Some came from the British Isles, most of them from somewhere else.

They speak with an accent. To grade that accent is to discriminate, literally, based on their national origin. I agree that people need to be understood. I disagree that they need to be flawless. To demand the degree of "accent-free" diction is to exercise both xenophobic tendencies, and also to discriminate. Both are wrong; both have become typical of caucasian attitude, as manifested in legislation and attitude of elected government officials.

Re:English accents sound sexy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511152)

Caucasians do not have a monopoly on the attitude.

Re:English accents sound sexy (1)

FailedTheTuringTest (937776) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511250)

There is no such thing as "accent-free". We all speak with an accent, the accent of the place where we learned our language. You may think your way of speaking is "normal" and everyone else's as "different", but you are not the center of the linguistic universe; it is all relative. People from other places can hear your accent and can probably tell where you grew up by listening to you.

I suspect that discrimination on the basis of accent would probably violate the civil rights of U.S. citizens to travel freely and work in any state in the USA. You can't discriminate against someone just because they sound like they are from Boston, Brooklyn, or Charleston.

Re:English accents sound sexy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37510966)

Pure conjecture. I don't know how many Scottish or Irish people who would share the same correlation between English Accents and Smart Sounding.

business needs to do with the overseas help desk (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510958)

business needs to do with the overseas help desk and other customer service.

Too late for me (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510980)

Freshman physics discussion group, led by a postdoc from India. First day, he kept talking about "el squaw". The whole hour was about this Hispanic Indian maiden and her relationship to other constants. Went home and read the chapter. The young woman turned out to be L squared.

Re:Too late for me (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511106)

The squaw of the hippopotamus hide is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.

(*rimshot*)

NOT Racism (3, Informative)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37510982)

To those saying this is racism, please grow up and quit whining.

I grew up in South Carolina, and have lived there most of my adult life. To this day other natives ask me where I came from, because I do not sound as they do.
I just smile, and say, "born and raised, but went to a private school that enforced clear and concise speech." To those that instead ask, "Where did you attend college?" I have to say, "I didn't. I dropped out of high school my sophomore year and had obtained my G.E.D before the year was over."

Teaching English to students while maintaining such a thick accent does nothing more than harm the children later on in life. People are viewed by how well they communicate, especially in a business environment. To expect a teacher to instruct children in English and not be able to speak clearly and concisely themselves, is nothing more than asking the blind to lead the blind.

If I had two people interviewing for a job I had, both with identical qualifications, and one spoke better than the other, guess who I am going to give the job to?

Re:NOT Racism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511118)

It would be interesting to know whether there is a correlation between people who failed the accent test and people who are visible minorities. But even if the accent test is purely based on sound, then it surely must violate the civil liberties of any U.S. citizen to travel freely and work anywhere within the United States -- I cannot believe that it could be legal to discriminate against someone because they sound like they are from out-of-state. Anyway, if you are truly going by sound alone, a Spanish accent is no stranger than a Boston accent, or a Brooklyn accent, or a Charleston accent.

Re:NOT Racism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511128)

What a wanker.

It's all relative (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511002)

Someone from South Carolina thinks they speak normally and that the person from the Bronx has a funny accent; the person from the Bronx thinks the reverse; and a person from London thinks they're both nuts, innit? Mid-west American and "BBC English" are supposed to be widely understood by American and UK English speakers, but they are still accents.

The example given in the article is ludicrous: 'the state had written up teachers for pronouncing "the" as "da," "another" as "anuder" and "lives here" as "leeves here."' That's not a barrier to communication, that's regional prejudice. I wonder if there are any people from Boston teaching in Arizona and whether they would pass the test.

Re:It's all relative (0)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511038)

And as a child asked to spell and/or write what the teacher just said, what would the answer look like?

Regional accents are fine, in casual conversation. Not so much in the education of our youth, who are already deprived of things like logic and reason (both of which would help them discern what was actually being said.......)

Speak proper English (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511028)

Its about bloody time you blokes learned to speak the Queen's English!

Re:Speak proper English (1)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511048)

It's o.k., I still try and spell words like "color" with an ending of "ou", like "colour".

just go to Hollywood (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511062)

There are specialists in making you sound appropriate for whatever role.

There are many who specialize in making Canadians sound more like Americans.

When part of your job is communicating and being understood, a strong accent could interfere with your ability to do the job.

My 2 cents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511068)

I was born and raised in California and now I'm going to school in electrical engineering. This major tends to have many professors who are either Indian, Middle Eastern, or Asian. And for someone raised with exposure to basically only "normal" (basically my own accent) and Spanish accents (and I'm still bad with understanding those), it's very hard to understand some of my professors. I'm sorry, but you may be knowledgeable in a subject, but that doesn't mean you don't have to at least put an effort into making yourself understandable to the average person with an "American" accent (you know what I mean). I don't know if what is being done in the article is "right", but from the STUDENTS perspective, it can be difficult. And I want to make sure people understand that although the people I talked about teaching my classes above aren't typically white, my difficulty with accents really doesn't hold any prejudice, I usually have a hard time with British or general European accents.

Basically, if your accent is so strong that your students aren't understanding you, you need to do something about it! That is, if you give a shit about the students. Unfortunately a lot of times nowadays, the teacher's don't care much about the student, but thats another topic...

Depends on Context (1)

Rehnberg (1618505) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511072)

If you're doing it to improve customer service by making sure that everyone can understand everyone else through a global network of call centers, it's innovation. It's the vocal equivalent of requiring employees to wear uniforms when they're interacting with customers. If you're doing it because you don't like Hispanics who are CLEARLY illegal immigrants because their first language isn't English, rights violation, or at least discrimination. PS French isn't my first language, yet the French people I know seem to really appreciate my effort to speak their language, in spite of an American accent.

All sorts (1)

Hecatonchires (231908) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511114)

In uni I had lecturers from China, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia among other places. I could understand them. The two hardest to understand were one lady who was extremely soft spoken. Had to sit in the front to hear her, even with a mic. The absolute hardest was a scottish guy. I had no idea what he was saying, even with a presentation up that he was speaking to. And english was his native language! All the foreign nationals put more effort into learning a second language than he did his first.

Re:All sorts (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511168)

Yup. The hardest time I ever had understanding anyone allegedly fluent in English was a Scottish fellow with such a thick accent that I basically had to piece together what he was saying with about a 50% word comprehension rate. I've had thickly accented Indians who spoke more comprehensible English.

Umm hello? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511154)

Where do we begin? How about starting with a simple civics lesson. People of India (the country in which Bangalore rests) do not have the same rights as the people of the US.

We could move on to another civics lesson: An investigation does not mean that something has been done wrong. It simply means someone thinks perhaps something was done wrong. (I know the pesky media want to equate investigation with being guilty, but that isn't how it really works.)

Beyond that, in one case people are told up front that they will be given the class. Contrast this with someone being on a job and the first they know about the program is when their boss tells them they must take additional lessons. Yes, there is another difference.

Context is important (2)

ook_boo (1373633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37511206)

Call centers in India have good reason to Americanize (not "neutralize") the accents of the workers there. But the Arizona case reminds me of my grandfather, who was born and raised in a certain rural area of Canada, and got a job teaching in the same area. So if ever there was a local accent, it was my grandfather's. But some fool administrator with a Scottish brogue so thick nobody could understand him sat in on one of my grandfather's classes and marked him for his "foreign" accent, which in his ignorance he didn't recognize as a local variant. I sincerely hope nobody is doing something like that in Arizona.

Accent Police? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37511230)

I never knew some part of the US had language police like Quebec :P

Though seriously, the role of a teacher is to teach. If a teacher is unable to speak in a way that 100% of the students that aren't mentally disabled can understand then there is a problem. Personally, having worked in a call center, just about everyone can be understood, even ESL types with poor grammar. Where the language breaks down is when regional slang doesn't carry over to places outside the area. This is why loan-words are often frowned upon in languages like Chinese and Russian, because those aren't "their" words, even though there are perfectly acceptable loanwords that more people would understand around the world.

Japanese and Korean are perfectly fine with loanwords, and thus even as a foreigner, you can get away with speaking english to some degree if you can just find the right word that is also used as a loanword (examples include "PersoCom" = "Personal Computer", "Cookie", "Cake" (these words often have stretched 'e' sounds in Japanese, but it's clear what it is) and in reverse we have sushi, sashimi, karaoke, that even English speakers will understand due to widespread use.

The hardest "english-like" accents to understand are Caribbean, Scottish and Indian accented English. In these cases they often sound more foreign than they really are. Generic Australian and British accents are easily confused by Americans and Canadians, because they sound close enough without knowledge of the grammar. Likewise with Canadian and American accents. Without knowing the grammar, Canadians just come off as friendlier, even though they are perfectly capable of being as as much of a jerkass as Americans. This largely comes about from different type of hostile legal environment than anything else. Where as Americans have "free speech", Canadians do not. Canadians however don't care about censorship, so things are less censored to begin with, just harder to get into the country.

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