I recognize that taking cultural sensitivity advice from Little Britain is a very bad idea. Still, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from Weight Watchers Counselor Marjorie Dawes. Not surprisingly, it has very little to do with fashion.

I came across an excellent website called humanaccents.com that taught me what these Little Britain’s sketches are illustrating.  “Studies have shown the perception of the accent, not the accent by itself, often results in negative evaluations of non-native teachers. In one clever study (Rubin, 1992), students listened to a taped lecture recorded by a native English speaker with a standard accent and were shown a picture of the lecturer. However, half of the students were shown a picture of a Caucasian instructor and the other half saw a picture of an Asian instructor. Students who saw the Asian picture believed that they had heard an accented lecturer and performed worse on a task measuring lecture comprehension. Thus, negative evaluations may reflect the prejudices that one holds rather than real issues with comprehensibility.”

In a nutshell, students listened to an instructor, and if they thought he was Asian, they had a hard time understanding him.  Even though he was actually a white guy speaking without an accent.  (More precisely a Standard American Accent.) If they thought he was Caucasian, no problem.  Wow our brains are stupid sometimes.

The next time you find yourself misunderstood, you may not be at fault.

If you’re the listener and you’re having a hard time understanding someone, excuse yourself, run to the bathroom and take a quick look in the mirror.  Really look at yourself.   If you see any trace of Marjorie Dawes there, then I suggest you change your attitude.

And your eyeshadow.




Rubin, 1992.  Nonlanguage Factors Affecting Undergraduates’ Judgments of Nonnative English-SpeakingTeaching AssistantsAuthor(s): Donald L. RubinSource: Research in Higher Education, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Aug., 1992), pp. 511-531Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40196047 .