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 the 1950s in Glasgow so I am part of a generation who learned the language from parents born in the 1930s and grandparents born in the 1900s. As a result my early speech would be considered very broad Glaswegian by today’s standards. I was made acutely however aware from my earliest years of the undesirability of this accent by the same relatives who modelled it. Their good intentions ensured that I was careful to speak standard English at home in a way which would have invited utter ridicule amongst my school friends. Over time my speech became consistently more standard in terms although I retained my West of Scotland accent. This seemed to be a successful strategy until two incidents made me wonder. The first came in my early 50s. I visited a teaching camp for Spaniards learning English as one of the volunteer English coaches along with speakers from all over the English speaking world. At the end of the week one of my fellow attendees from Spain confessed that none of her compatriots wanted to be paired with me because I was too difficult to understand. I was more upset though to hear my fellow English speakers from North America, Australasia, Africa and even England itself agree that they found me equally unintelligible. I was quietly offended and dubious until I met my partner from Dumfries and Galloway a few years later, who proclaimed me ‘the most Glaswegian person’ she’d ever met. I highly doubt this however my attempts at standardising my accent clearly haven’t been as successful as I thought. I am at an age now, or I live in an age, where I no longer feel the need to change.
I am originally from a place that sits between Newcastle, Sunderland, and Gateshead, therefore it’s very difficult to define my accent. Some people from the south, would say it’s Geordie instantly after meeting me. But here’s the thing, if i go to Newcastle, most people with a very strong Geordie accent, insist that i sound like ‘A Mackem’ (Sunderland accent). The interesting part is, when i go to Sunderland, i’m told that i sound like a Geordie. To make matters more complicated, when i went to live and work in Spain, whatever people wanted to class my accent as, didn’t have the same characteristics anyways. After working in Spain, and coming home to the UK, i spoke with a slight Durham twang for some reason. Example: “You’re annoying uz” became “You’re annoying mee”. The mystery of accentism ey!…….
I started learning Spanish 10 years ago and moved to Spain 6 years ago. In general, native people I meet in Spain make comments like ‘I’m surprised that you speak Spanish so well’. I think it is obvious that anyone who has been learning a language for 10 years should speak it fluently. Anyway, this attitude does not bother me too much. What really bothers me is when my stage directors say ‘you will never have a lot of work because of your accent’ or my Argentinian colleagues say ‘the audience won’t ever understand you well because your accent doesn’t even exist’ (meaning that my mother tongue isn’t Spanish).
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 :).
Hablando de tener acento andaluz y de cómo, al hablar mucho por teléfono en el trabajo, trataba de neutralizar un poco el acento para que me entendieran mejor:
«Pero entonces, si sabes hablar bien, ¿por qué hablas así?»
No se me olvidará en la vida.
Once my older brother took a taxi in Madrid. He often goes to the capital for business. During the trip he was called to his mobile phone. When he heard him talking, the taxi driver stopped and ordered him to get out of the cab. He had recognized that he was speaking Catalan.
While working as a waitress in Spain I was once asked by a fellow Englishman if I had ferrets and lived on a farm because I was from the north.
Also while working at the same job another English customer told me ‘oh, you’re actually quite intelligent despite your stupid northern accent’.
While working as an English teacher in Spain, a student once asked me why I didn’t ‘autocorrect myself and at least try to speak in standard English’.