10 Most Challenging Accents for Americans

Learn about the results of a study that ranked accents which Americans find most challenging to follow

By Ofer Ronen in Call Centers 04/18/24

Some accents are tougher to understand and require a lot of effort to follow. In the United States there are certain accents known to be more challenging to comprehend. Let’s take a look at the 10 hardest accents for Americans to understand, giving them the most trouble.

Man talks on cellphone in the middle of a busy street.

What is an Accent?

An accent is the manner in which individuals in a specific region, country, or social group pronounce words. Many people don’t realize they have an accent, because an accent is how someone sounds when they speak. Someone may think they don’t have an accent because they don’t sound French or British, for example. But they should consider how their patterns of speech sound to individuals from those countries.

Why Do Americans Tend to Have More Trouble?

In Europe and some other parts of the world, people have less trouble understanding each other, despite possessing different language backgrounds. However, that’s not as true in the United States. Americans tend to listen for what they expect to hear and mentally “short circuit” when they don’t get it.

Even though multilingualism is on the rise elsewhere, most people in the USA speak English exclusively. Thus, their ears are not necessarily open to other accents. This requires them to exercise exceptional patience and focus when communicating with someone whose accent they find unfamiliar. Europeans enjoy more cultural interactions with people from other nations, so the concern is less significant.

With that said, the following accents are particularly troublesome for people in the U.S., according to the results of a survey published by Straw Poll:

  1. Scottish – In addition to a broad range of dialects, Scottish has distinctive pronunciations that render it challenging for non-native speakers to understand. This is true, even though Scottish is a regional variation of English.
  2. Jamaican – This accent is marked by its generous use of slang, Creole patois, and regional idioms derived from a mix of English and various African languages, as well as Spanish and Arawakan influences.
  3. Indian – The unique sound, rhythm, and intonation of people from India can be troublesome for Americans. Various languages spoken in India influence the vocabulary of Indian English.
  4. Australian – Unique intonation patterns and vowel sounds can be troublesome for non-native speakers. As an example, the Australian accent abbreviates “I” sounds and changes “a” sounds.
  5. South African – With its use of slang and distinctive pronunciations, this accent can pose problems for U.S. listeners. The South African accent is influenced by a number of languages—including Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans, which is derived from Dutch.
  6. Irish – Irish phonetic patterns are known for their distinctive rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation, even though it is English-based. These can confuse the American ear.
  7. New Zealand – Also known as a “Kiwi” accent, its distinctive vowel sounds can give non-native speakers trouble.
  8. Russian – Idiosyncratic pronunciations, unusual intonation patterns, and differing phonological features can challenge the American ear.
  9. Welsh – Here, too, different pronunciation and intonation patterns make Welsh difficult to understand. The accent is characterized by its musical and melodic qualities.
  10. Cajun – Spoken primarily in Louisiana and surrounding areas, Americans outside of the region have problems with the unique pronunciation and slang. This accent originated from French-speaking settlers called Acadians.

AI to the Rescue

The good news is accent neutralization software, built using voice AI technology, can help folks with understanding the toughest of accents. The solution works best when speaking on the phone with agents with challenging accents. As the agent speaks the AI reduces the level of accent heard by the listener. Such solutions are being deployed by call centers in places around the World where the accents are known to be challenging for Americans callers.

Take Away

While multilingualism is more commonplace in other parts of the world, U.S. culture is English-dominant. As a result, Americans often have a hard time understanding “foreign” accents, which can make communicating difficult. The advent of accent neutralization platforms like Tomato.AI is helping to bridge the gap.

By Ofer Ronen in Call Centers 04/18/24