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.
Growing up, moving back and forth between Thanet and Norfolk was difficult while learning to talk because I would pick up different fractions of each accent. It became difficult at school because other children would pick on me for ‘sounding funny’ and teachers would tell me to talk ‘properly’. When asked to label my accent I would find it difficult because it was a mix of both. Still now, even though they are playing with me, my friends like to make fun of my accent as I elongate my vowels more than they do, and the ‘ing’ ending words would sound more like ‘in’ words. But I learn to live with it and laugh along.
The most common thing I receive is when I feel I’m not welcomed in the community because of my accent. I’ve moved around a lot in England, therefore have collected various ways of speaking and different parts of accents and combined it into one. The most common things said to me are phrases like “you’re not from round here are you?” and the one I find most annoying purely because I’ve been asked so many times and it gets exhausting is “where are you from?” I understand people are most likely curious but its usually the first thing people ask me when they hear me speak. I experienced this the most when I lived in Nottinghamshire, I was often laughed at for my pronunciation of words or because I didn’t use the words they did for bread roll or ears, and made fun of. My first day at primary school in Nottinghamshire my PE lesson consisted of the teacher asking where I was from, where I was born, why I moved there and it was the most memorable thing for me because I felt like i was different and not welcome there. Another common thing I have received was when I went to America and was asked to repeat certain words because it sounded “stupid” or “weird” and “funny”.
I’m from the North East of England (born and raised) and despite my family (who are also all from the North East) and peers having strong northern accents, I don’t; and instead I have an accent that most people sight as being American. This leads to a lot of jokes between me and my friends. I’ve also grown used to people asking me about my accent and where me and my family are from. However, because of my accent being strange it quite frequently made me the target of bullying in primary and secondary school which made me extremely self conscious about the way I talk.
I’m from the Black Country but have lived almost 40 years in Hampshire, I spent some time in school in Hants as well as much of my adult life. While I no longer speak with a strong accent it has marked me out as someone to laugh at or simply actively hate. Sitting miffed in interviews with people laughing so hard whenever I spoke they couldn’t catch breath. I’ve been asked if I know who my father is and received a long letter suggesting I never again aspire to anything due to my background, I’ve been refused service in shops, banks and cafes and graded downwards despite coming equal to or better than other peers. It still can be a daily issue to have someone somewhere remind me I’m a Midlander… I sometimes thank them for letting me know as it’s easy to forget without the constant reminders… always with a twinkle. The idea, it seems from some, is to bring me down a few pegs, put me back in that box from which I wriggled.
None of my schools nor FEs expected anything of me, nor offered support, the educators were in some respects actively hostile. Similarly I’ve had employers apologise to visitors in advance for anything I may do and say on the basis that I come from the Midlands… and I was never ever allowed to represent any organisation I have been involved in… just in case it’s infectious maybe?
Many have suggested elocution lessons and moving back to the Midlands despite having spent most of my life in the South East. I recall one director filming where I worked saying I was a long way from home, I didn’t catch on immediately since this is my home so I said no I just live across the water… he looked confused, I caught on and laughed and explained (I’ve thought about having leaflets printed it happens so often)
What really gets to some people is that I’m not ashamed of being a Midlander in any way shape for form, yes it’s a different culture to here. I now sound very posh (according to the Midlanders) when I travel back there to visit relatives so I’m neither fish nor fowl really. I like both areas and people, not everyone means it badly and those that do tend to regret it when they find their friends laughing at them when I tease them back.
All in all, like many of my fellow Midlanders, I’m a well read, auto didact with a dry sense of humour and a friendly manner. I must be a serious challenge to prejudices if I have them working so hard to try and make me feel bad about myself… but I am the only one with that power over me, perhaps one day more people will understand that and accents will become an interesting difference rather than an object of hate and ridicule.
My experience isn’t necessarily about my accent specifically, however it is about the way I speak.
I have a lisp and have done for my entire life as far as I’m aware. It’s not something I like about myself, but those I know and associate with never seem to have any trouble with it and have never mentioned it. However, there have been two incidents where it has, apparently, been a problem.
The first I want to talk about is one I didn’t know about until a few months ago when my mum was asked about my lisp. When I first started school, bearing in mind I was 4 years old, my mum was contacted regarding the possibility of speech therapy for me because, according to the person who contacted her, no-one could understand what I was saying. My mum was confused about this, and rightly so considering my best friend of two years at the time was Indian and struggled with English had no issues with the way I spoke, so she went to my class teacher. She was equally confused and told my mum that everything was fine with the way I spoke. I have no idea who it was that told my mum all that, but clearly they were only going on their own experience with me and hadn’t spoken to anyone else about it!
In comparison, this second story is incredibly mild. When I started secondary school, I was the only person from my primary school in that year group. I had an okay working relationship with the boys who sat around me in my science class and I was always happy to help either of them if they needed it. One lesson we were doing work about hypothetical samples of something from different regions. One of those regions was Cheshire, which one of the guys couldn’t work out. I tried to help him out, of course, but my lisp means that I pronounce ‘ch’ as an odd variation of ‘j’, so he had no idea what I was trying to say. I think I ended up confusing him even more by giving up and telling him it was “the name of the cat from Alice In Wonderland”! Luckily, the other guy realised how much trouble this was causing and told him. But I think that was the incident that made me realise how prominent my lisp was and ended with me being incredibly conscious of it even until this day.
I was born in Argentina then I moved to Spain and grew up there. As the Spanish language has different accents, “argentinian” or better said rioplatense variation, is one of the most joked about variations in the hispanic community because of its intonation, the sound of /s/ instead of the dental /z/ from peninsular Spain or the sound of /sh/ in some words such as yerba (“sherba”). When I read any sort of text at school teachers would correct my accent, my classmates would say that they could not understand me or they would try to make me speak to laugh.
Since then, I almost suppressed my accent because as a child, it was something I felt I had to do to fit in. And now, if I’m talking and suddenly a weird intonation comes out of my mouth I have the impression that I will be “the argentinian” in the place and not just myself. I also used to feel very ashamed if my mother talked to me with her accent in front of people so I would always have an angry face if she did so. I tried to fix my accent because sadly not everyone will talk to me the same way as they would if they knew I speak “argentinian”. My hope is that this concept changes one day :).
I was 9 in 1980 when I moved from Barcelona to Flix, a small village in Tarragona where a different variety of Catalan is spoken. In the beginning I was made to read out loud from the books in school because my accent was ‘better’ than theirs. It didn’t take me long to pick up the local accent and vocabulary.
A year later I moved back to Barcelona and started in a new school, where I was laughed at until I lost the non standard accent.
My son’s American accent was relentlessly (and badly) mocked and imitated in his secondary schools here in London, and it made him absolutely miserable. This naturally made the other kids do it more. He has taken badly against the country as a whole as a result – a stereotyping overreaction in itself. Prejudice begets prejudice. He hates it here and can’t wait to be old enough to move away.
I was picked on when I joined my secondary school for speaking ‘posh’. I guess I had quite an RP accent from my parents who had both had elocution lessons when they were younger. I would definitely not have considered myself ‘posh’ though. No one wanted to be posh at my school. I had to very quickly start speaking North Londonese to avoid bullying.