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 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.
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.