I’m an academic in Applied Linguistics and Tesol and have been in academia since 2010. I’m teaching at a University and I think I’ve never consciously tried to sound more ‘native’ like because I like the way I talk and it has never led to any communication gaps. Some of my postgraduate students would ask me during inductions if I’m Italian (which I’m not) and that would be fine by me. What is not fine, is having colleagues (non-native speakers of English) commenting (or perhaps gossiping) about my accent, even in front of me and saying “Oh the students think you’re Italian hahaha”. Some of these ‘colleagues’ are supposedly working in the field of social justice! The irony…
I work in education at a college, and on a regular bases I am corrected by colleagues. My accent is south east London and I pronounce words that are understandable, but not pronounced correctly. Colleagues like to correct me in front of my peers and also make fun of my accent. They make me fill so negative and stupid and then I end up making more pronunciation mistakes.
When I moved to the Netherlands to study at one of the many English-taught university programs offered, I was welcomed by students from all over the world. However, when socializing and speaking to a group of local Dutch students, I heard the remark: “Wow, your English is really good for an Italian!” When I asked for further explanations, they just replied “Oh, you know, because you don’t have an accent.” That comment stuck with me due to its superficiality. In Italy, nowhere near as much attention is paid to teaching English conversation skills, or so-called ‘proper pronunciation,’ as in the Netherlands. All the members of my family back in Italy have an accent when speaking English (if they’re even able to speak it at all). Trying to single me out as ‘one of the Italians with no audible accent’ was just so shallow, as it ignored the nuances of second language learning and my experience as an international student.
I suffer from rhotacism (like Jonathon Ross) and my speech is affected by both this and my hearing loss, especially when tired.
When I was 7 years old, I was in a Y3 class and my teacher asked the class to name things that were outside on the school grounds. I confidently raised my hand and said ‘trees’ but what came out sounded like ‘cheese’. Cue laughter from the other students, and my teacher saying, whilst laughing herself, that ‘there’s no cheese outside’.
I was never embarrassed about my speech, or felt ‘different’ from my peers, until this incident occured. This is something that has haunted me for over twenty years. I’m sure that no-one remembers it happening except for me, which shows how powerful just one negative comment about someone’s speech can be.
I thought it was just me overreacting or over thinking, but I soon realised that it wasn’t. In some situations my mild Nigerian accent , was proving to be a hindrance to people making connections with me. I saw it at work, (some) parents at my children’s school, as a participant enrolled on a professional training course – “it” kept following me around. I would say my name or introduce myself and the look on their face and quick withdrawals was obvious. I was the same person, with years of professional UK work experience, but I was beginning to question myself based on these repeated experiences. Why would anyone judge me on the basis of my accent?
Why should my contributions and answers be taken less seriously on a course, because I did not sound like those with an English accent? I moved to the UK from Nigeria in my twenties and surely could not be expected to sound like someone that had lived in UK most of their lives. Or maybe, they wanted me to sound like them?
As a test, I changed my accent a few times, to hide the Nigerian tone and they connected. I even did it on the phone – I got better responses with a London accent than with a Nigerian accent!!
It is quite sad that with diversity being all around now, some people still see others through myopic lenses.
How boring if we all sounded alike?
Also, who judges what accent sounds better than another, based on the part of the world that you come from?
I cannot sound like you, because I have not lived in your part of the world!
I am who I Am – not who you say I Am?
I am so glad to have found this website – accentism.org.
I come from Kingston-Upon-Hull which has a very distinctive accent. At the primary school, we sang a hymn that ends ‘nothing can our peace destroy’. The teacher shouted at us for pronouncing it ‘distroy’ and told us to sing it again ‘properly’. I privately decided to pronounce it as I wanted, as did the other 150-odd children in the room. She practically turned inside out with fury, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. When I was teaching primary I always remembered not to lose my dignity in that way but also never to criticise children’s accents.
I have always seen that as my first act of mass protest.
I am a senior academic who has worked in a variety of North West UK Higher Education institutions. A nurse by background, I also studied Linguistics and got a lovely understanding of my rhotic Lancashire accent, of which I am proud. I have avoided changing my accent over the years and this has never seemed to be an issue. I will speak more slowly if being interpreted, or speaking to someone not used to a Lancashire accent, and I’m always happy to chat about accents and dialects.
In the past a small number of people have commented negatively on my accent but this subsided as I became more senior. However recently, two colleagues I respect and work closely with, began to do a Northern accent mimicry of others, or of a tough ‘ee-by-gum’ type situation (neither are Northern). Last week it was directed at me, suggesting in said mock Northern accent, that I was intransigent and feared flexibility. Both individuals taking a turn and finding it hilarious.
I am quite saddened and surprised at the ease of the linguistic prejudice, and the associated intellectual limitations on Northerners that was also suggested in the mimicking process. It makes me wonder about our students and the subliminal prejudice they too face. Would make for a great academic outcomes study.
For as long as I can remember people have made comments (ranging from polite, mild, bold and wholly insensitive) about my accent, diction and soft tone of voice. It has had them describe me as posh, a speaker of The Queen’s English, Miss RP, plummy, coconut and sell-out.
The crux of the matter for them is that I am Black; the double prejudice knows no bounds.
I am from Southern Europe and have lived in the UK for over 20 years. I have a clear accent, but when I lived in Hampshire, many locals would frequently say “Sorry?” because they couldn’t understand me – or didn’t make any effort to. I actually speak better English than the average native speaker, because I have studied for many years and it is grammatically correct. I am surprised educated and senior people in the public sector don’t know how to use the apostrophe, for example. To me, it is something I mastered when I was 8 years old!
After I moved to London, it was kind of liberating, because London being cosmopolitan, people are a lot more exposed to foreign accents. However, the native British still find my accent fascinating for some reason and constantly ask me where I am from, which can be tiring. You don’t want your accent to define you or to be the first thing people notice about you or the main thing they remember about you.
My accent nowadays must be a mixture of RP, Yorkshire, American (from TV) and Greek, which I appreciate is quite unique and different, but it is quite annoying when people cannot place me anywhere and then guess and go for the easy option to assume I am Eastern European. Nothing wrong with Eastern Europeans per se – it is just that these accents tend to be quite different to mine and I don’t like it when people are given generalised labels.
I’ve heard all sorts of nonsense that is actually racist, like whether I drink Vodka in the morning (apparently a comment assuming I am Polish/Russian? How ignorant and insulting, in any case).
If you don’t know where an accent is from just admit it. Don’t try to label people and make assumptions when you don’t have a clue. Ask politely, but don’t make it the first thing you ask about someone.
Even better, focus on the individual, their knowledge and personality, and not their accent. It just goes to show, white people can face racism too based on their accents in Britain.
Also, remember: if someone has a non-standard Anglophone accent, this means they speak at least one more language very fluently. Do you?
As a child, I lived in Scotland for quite some time before moving to the US at age 7 or 8. When I started school there, I was often ashamed to speak because my Scottish accent garnered so much attention. I don’t remember if any staff had a reaction, but my classmates were equal parts fascinated and repulsed by my accent: they’d scrunch up their faces because I was apparently impossible to understand, or ask me to say particular words or phrases on cue. Of course, they were only children and really didn’t know any better, but it just highlights the importance of exposing people, from a young age, to other ways of being. Disappointingly, I ended up making a conscious effort to change my accent to an ‘American’ one, in order to fit in.