A client tells me she’s just seen a TV show about accents and discrimination in professions. I didn’t see the programme, but it doesn’t surprise me, because in a recent poll, 27% of the population believe that they’ve been discriminated against because of their accent.
Accent and dialect are part of who we are, where we came from, where we’ve lived. Some places retain a distinct accent and the families and community in the area are recognized by the way they speak and use the language. In this way an accent and dialect can be described as being tribal. It is a way of staying close.
There are examples of people not being able to enter a profession (the legal profession of barrister) because of their accent.
Legal language and legal terms are complex. The job of a barrister is to speak for others and be dexterous with the language. I have, however, coached people with accents who have been accepted for pupillage. It is confidence and clarity that count. If your accent is blurring any meaning of what you say, then you have to put the practise in. Someone who was turned down 9 times for pupillage came to me for help. They were extremely bright, had good degrees, but their speech was not clear. This was mainly because of key consonants sounds that were hard for them to achieve because these sounds were not in their mother tongue. They wrote notes of these sounds and stuck them up around their flat where they could see them, so they practiced them all the time.
All of us need to practice and work on ourselves – our worth, our confidence, our fluency.
There is a sort of tribal language in chambers. A strong south London or cockney accent may appear to be too bullish for when you are presenting an argument. It depends on how you use the accent. It is not difficult to soften a strong London accent, but when you are happy with your accent, you can learn to vary your speech patterns. It’s difficult to get a defined cockney accent when you speak RP (standard English). I’ve done it with an RP speaker on a BBC documentary about London accents. Soon to be posted on our YouTube channel. He went around Shepherd’s Bush market buying fruit and veg and then the market stall holders he bought from, were asked where they thought he was from. They all said, “from around here”, which was great …and a relief.
Accents add colour and personality to the speaker
In professions where the terminology and vocabulary is complex, it’s important to be clear. If you put stress and intonation on a word or phrase that differs from standard English, then it can be confusing and it’s crucial that there are no mistakes.
There are groups of lawyers, who sponsor talented young people of school age, who want to enter the legal profession but who would not normally be given the opportunity. You can find these charities through libaries or your local authority education department.