I am a Spanish national who moved to the UK almost 30 years ago and I am proud of the level of fluency I have achieved in my English. In the early years I lived in Scotland (married a Scot) and for a few years I lived in the Midlands. I have always loved diverse accents and for the last 22 years I’ve lived in rural Wales.
English was my favourite subject in school and although at the end of school I was able to string sentences together, I credit my fluency to lots of reading, listening and being immersed in the language and culture while studying, working and living in the UK. I also believe my acute hearing has contributed significantly.
Recently I have reflected on how hard I consciously or unconsciously worked on my accent so I was not seen as an oddity or labelled with the stereotypes generally given to my compatriots. This manifests in how I speak and how I conduct myself, to the point that perhaps I have eroded my own identity as a Spaniard. When I meet people they’re often surprised to hear English is not my first language or they say they can’t place my accent. My own family often comment how I’ve become very ‘anglicised’ which may not be a compliment.
I was born in Paris, but lived in the Southwest, near Bordeaux in an Italian community that spoke a Neapolitan dialect with a bit of Sicilian and Corsican thrown in. At school our prof was only interested in Shakespeare so when I came to England at the age of 19, well guess what? I could not understand the people around me.
Anyway, determination and utter focussing on my pronunciation (hours in front of the mirror having composed sentences with th) and years later I finally went into nursing. However, it became apparent that something in the way that I spoke was rubbing people’s back up the wrong way. After some illuminating points from my colleagues, I had to change the intonation on some words as I sounded harsh; an intense awareness on my pronunciation got me there. It was the tone in which I said for example: No! I don’t think so. In an English intonation the ‘no’ is soften by elongating it a bit ‘no-o’, and ‘I don’t think so’ both ‘I’ and ‘so’ are lowered in tone so to soften it up.
After many years here, and in some companies the questions about having an accent are interesting: am I Welsh? Scottish? Scandinavian? Or even Dutch. Not one bit of French or Italian!
Interestingly, after lacking contact with the French language for a while, I had to work on my intonation to help me sound French again. Oh! I almost forgot, I have also been told I have a southern English accent; cant hear that!
I’m from Long Island NY, from a family with a pretty light accent to begin with, or so I thought. When I went away to college (the first one in my immediate family) to upstate NY the first thing that I knew had to go was my accent. Every time I said anything with my natural lilt my roommates were laughing and demanding I repeat certain words for their entertainment because it was just so funny. I was majoring in Linguistics and when we learned phonetics in the introduction class I used that understanding to change how I spoke. The making fun stopped and no one could tell where I was from anymore; I had to lose a piece of my identity to be accepted by my peers here and more broadly in academia as I’m now working on my PhD.