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The use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in professional settings seems to be a non-stop debate. Is it good, bad, or a non-issue?

Accent Coach LaDoris Bell wants you to know more about AAVE and how it can help or hurt a career.

While many Black professionals feel the pressure to code-switch in order to be taken seriously, they also don’t want to stress about speech and expression all day. I spoke with Accent Coach LaDoris Bell, a woman who specializes in helping ESL speakers sound like executives no matter their background. As LaDoris is black and I’m a Caucasian person, I wanted to understand the issue with AAVE and work.

Before the first day

According to LaDoris, it starts with the interview and the hiring process.

“If you want to speak black English,” she said, “I am pretty sure there is a company out there that will hire you. But it’s not as wide as American Standard English. So you just gotta choose what is something that you can live with and go from there.”

For Black professionals, the decision to code-switch or not can be a difficult one. On one hand, there is the desire to be true to oneself and to speak in a way that feels authentic. On the other hand, there is the pressure to conform to societal norms and speak in a way that is considered “professional.” However, the latter can lead to extreme exhaustion and frustration.

The downside to code-switching

But for those who do choose to code-switch, the experience can be stressful.

“When we come to try to get a job and we speak a certain way, we are immediately eliminated from the list,” LaDoris said. “And so we have to do the code-switching that you were talking about to where we can keep the job to where we can even be considered to have the job.”

To my fellow white individuals, I want you to imagine it like this: you go to work and your boss asks you to please speak in Scottish Standard English. You agree because you want the job, but then you have to spend all day watching how you pronounce your vowels and making sure to say “wee” in place of “small.” Then when you go to lunch and politely say no thanks to the communal haggis, they hit you with, “Dunna be blate; glaep yun down!”

Essentially, it’s your language, but now you have a job on top of a job. You have to fit in with your office culture and literally relearn English, something you formerly felt confident you knew. Worse, if you don’t get it just right, people start to judge you. Or worse, suspect you.

“I wish that people would just judge me off the content of my character,” LaDoris told me. “But unfortunately, humans don’t work that way. We would love for that to be the standard, but really, to be honest with you, if you gotta do the work, and you can choose whichever side you wanna choose.”

What can we do?

So, what can a rising Black star in business do to alleviate the problem?

LaDoris suggests letting other, non-black individuals know that you need a break from code-switching.

“I have a lot of white friends that I have talked to this about and said, Hey, I can’t do this anymore. And at first I thought it was them. I thought it was their problem. They were putting limitations on me as a black person. But then I started thinking about it. It could be both. That I know how I’m supposed to live as a black person, they don’t know what I know and I still feel like because they’re white, they’re putting limitations on me. But in reality, they’re just living the life that they know.”

In the end, the decision to code-switch or not is a personal one. LaDoris suggests that each person be honest with themselves about what they can and can’t manage each day. “For those who have stress and anxiety about speaking, who want to upgrade and expand their connections with other professionals, there are resources available,” she said. “And if we take the race off the table and not look at it from a white-black thing, and if we just say for you as an individual, if you have the desire to do better, then go for it.”

The takeaway

I am so grateful that LaDoris stopped by and educated me on such a unique and pressing issue, one that I truly didn’t grasp until her episode of my podcast. If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out here and please share it to help more people find it.

Follow LaDoris on YouTube or on Instagram to learn more about her and her incredible work.

Bianca @ Accent Coach Bianca

I serve the world by empowering people to speak English with confidence in their accent. My enthusiasm results in people feeling like they fit in better socially, and getting better work opportunities.

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