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Our January 2023 Event: “Yes, I have an accent, decolonise your ears”. With Dr. Maame Nikabs.

Language bias refers to the idea that we are inclined to favour those who communicate in the same way as us: people who speak our language, have the same accent, and use similar vocabulary or slang. This is, unfortunately, a common cause for discrimitation, as some accents can be seen as less professional or less ‘proper’ than others. On January 27th, we were joined by Dr. Maame Nikabs to hold an open forum discussion on these issues.

The meeting started with an introduction from our host Gabriella Ferenczi before Maame kicked off the discussion.

Maame talked about the barriers that she has faced as a result of her use of language, having her skills and experiences questioned when others wouldn’t be.

“People like myself are constantly scrutinised because of how we sound and how we use language.”

– Dr. Maame Nikabs

Maame then described her experience in recieving her MA in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Only to find that these job roles would often specifically require teachers to be native English speakers, providing a clear example of how qualifications can be overlooked because of language bias.

This is a very common societal issue, which, as Maame points out, can be especially problematic at the professional level, where employees or prospective employees are passed over for job roles and promotions based on their use of language and how they sound. This is often associated with linguistic profiling, where we assign charactersitics to people based on how they use language, where some accents can be seen as more ‘professional’ than others.

Once Maame had introduced this topic, the conversation was opened up for participants to ask their own questions and discuss their experiences with this issue.


One question addressed situations where strong accents can make it difficult to understand what people are saying, and situations where this can cause problems such as a lecturer whose students are struggling to understand them. In response to this, Maame suggested that it usually isn’t actually the accent itself that is causing the problem, and that speaking techniques such as slowing down, speaking louder and facing forward can allow people to be understood without needing to change their accent.

Maame also pointed out that in these situations the blame tends to be put solely on the speaker, even though the listener could also make more of an effort to be open-minded to experiencing different ways of speaking, which would help with understanding when listening to someone who doesn’t match the accent of their local area.

Another question asked about complimenting people’s accent, such as saying ‘I never would’ve known that you weren’t from here.’ Maame responded that even though this is intended as a compliment, it actually re-affirms the idea that there are ‘good’ accents and ‘bad’ accents, when in reality people shouldn’t have to feel any pressure or expectation to change their natural accent.

Next, a participant asked if there were any success stories of people overcoming language-related bias, looking for potential solutions on how we can address this issue. Maame told the story of a man from Ghana who was consistently passed over for promotions despite being highly qualified and experienced. He was even given the role as an interim position at times, demonstrating that he was more than capable and yet the company didn’t want to give him the position full-time, as he was seen as less competent based on his use of language. Eventually, after bringing this up with the head of diversity at the company he was given the promotion that he deserved.

This demonstrates how holding people and businesses accountable for their language bias, and having these diversity focused employees in businesses can help with preventing language and accent bias in some situations. There is still, however, a long way to go, as Maame mentioned that there are many more examples of people who haven’t been able to overcome these types of discrimination.

Maame speaking at the event

This led to a conversation on job interviews for non-native English speakers, discussing the difficulties of not being understood by the interviewer and judged based on accent instead of experience. One participant also pointed out that it can be difficult for non-native English speakers to properly articulate their thoughts in an interview setting, making them seem less knowledgeable on a topic than they actually are.


At Language Professionals’ Networking Event we feel that these are important conversations that need to be taking place. Multiple participants mentioned that they weren’t aware of the concept of language and accent-related bias, but once they read about this event they realised that it is something they have experienced and can relate to.

Spreading awareness for these sociatal issues is the best starting point when trying to address them. So, we hope that everyone who attended learnt something and we can continue to try and address these issues in whatever way we can.

We wanted to finish by sharing this powerful statement that Maame posted on LinkedIn the day of the event, which took place on Holocaust Memorial Day:

“History is repeating itself. Antisemitism is on the rise. As we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust, let us also remember the lessons it teaches us about the importance of diversity and inclusion. The persecution and murder of millions of Jews and members of other marginalized groups serve as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of hatred and discrimination. Let us strive to create a world where everyone is valued and respected, regardless of race, religion, or background. Let us work towards a society where differences are celebrated, not feared. Let us never forget the lessons of the Holocaust and commit ourselves to building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”

Thank you to all our attendees and a special thank you to Dr. Maame Nikabs for joining us to speak about this important issue.

About the Speaker

Dr. Maame Nikabs

Maame Afua Nikabs is a business thought leader and thinking partner who helps people, individuals and organisations move from where they are to where they want to go. She is the founder of LingLab Consult, specialising in business communication, diversity, inclusion and equality training and consultancy.

Maame hosts a weekly language matters podcast and is also an academic fellow at Africa No Filter. Maame holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from Queen Mary, University of London. Maame is joining us to share her story and experience that has led to her passion in transforming organisation cultures.


Twitter: @mnikabs

Feel free to connect with Maame on LinkedIn and Facebook

Any questions or comments on language-related bias? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation there.

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