Poor Cheryl Cole: how sad that an accent could damage a trans-Atlantic career

Poor Cheryl Cole: how sad that an accent could damage a trans-Atlantic careerI’m sure everyone who reads the papers and watches the news in the UK will have seen that last year (2011) “Girls Aloud” singer/celeb Cheryl Cole, a native of the north-east of England, was dropped from the judging panel of the US version of “The X Factor” due – it would seem – to the fact that Americans couldn’t understand her British accent.

Now of course, there may have been other issues involved that we didn’t know about. But the bottom line was that here we were with a British celeb who has – agreed – a strong regional accent, but was prevented from getting the acclaim she quite probably deserved because Americans might not have understood her.

One thing I find especially fascinating when I am in North America and the USA in particular, is the vast diversity of accents – mainly on the north-south divide – but hugely different from one another. What is it about the English language that permits Americans to understand the lilting, dreamy vowel sounds from – say – the Carolinas, or the neatly curved-up sounds from New England, or the drawl of the Texans … when they come, say, from the northern reaches of the mid-west? And why does this ability to cross-interpret not extend a couple of thousand miles or so across the Atlantic to Britain?

Do you North Americans REALLY not understand the Brits?

North American tourists visit Scotland and manage to decipher the guttural grunts of Glaswegians; they visit Yorkshire and Lancashire and cope with not only the different pronunciations, but also the different words and slang there; they even cope with Cockney Rhyming Slang in London.

And before you point the finger at me and tell me I’m talking through my keister, remember that I am a Canadian who was transported to the UK as a child and had to learn about British accents pronto, not that I found it difficult. However now, speaking as a truly trans-Atlantic English speaker, I found this whole story about poor Cheryl Cole really rather sad.

After all accents and – to a limited extent – local argot, are what make the English language the rich and delightful linguistic mish-mash that probably differentiates it from many other languages. OK, call English a bastardised language in that it has been walked all over by dozens of different cultures through the centuries, but it’s still here. And it’s still the third most widely spoken language in the world.

So come on, you North Americans. Give poor Cheryl Cole and others like her a break. Do you honestly think the way she speaks is any harder to understand than the way a pretty local girl from, say, Tennessee speaks?

Or is it a case that an English accent from across the Atlantic is “foreign?”

Useful further reading to help you:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Pic of Cheryl Cole ©  Cheryl Cole Music




  1. It’s a tricky one isn’t it?

    It’s a great pity they feel her accent is unintelligible enough to warrant excluding her from their judging panel. My students (non-native English speakers) are often surprised at how varied the accents are in the UK, but so far none have said they can’t understand those that they’ve heard. The only person I know who said she had trouble with some English / UK accents was the French wife of a friend.

    On the other hand, I know some very broad accents can be a bit tricky to follow (Glaswegian, for example), but I’m a bit surprised Cheryl Cole’s Newcastle accent falls into that bracket – I guess the real problem lies in the fact that it’s an unfamiliar accent to them, and it does take a while for the ear to tune into an accent. Perhaps they should be less hasty and at least give people the chance to hear and become accustomed to her accent – I doubt it would take long.

  2. In fairness, Georgie accents can be hard to understand, but as long as people speak fairly slowly and avoid using local slang, I can’t see where the problem is.

    Maybe there are political and/or business reasons why she was fired.


  3. Suze, it’s all very well to be cross at the Americans because they can’t understand a Geordie, but…if they can’t, they can’t. Tough tittles (or should that be ‘resistant breasts’?) for poor Chezza, but there it is. I’m sure she’ll cope.

  4. I love the variety of accents we have here – they give such a richness to our country. Someone once said to me – ‘you don’t have an accent do you… so you don’t belong anywhere,’ still upsets me now thinking about it …

  5. I know, Anita – and the local accents are dying out which is sad. When I was child living in Bedfordshire, England, I remember the local accent well – yet now you only ever hear it from elderly people. Because we’re in the south-east of England and the young people move around much more than their grandparents did, the accents just melt down into a vague sort of “Estuary English” …


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