“I am not sure what your accent is. Where are you from?”
“I like your accent! What is it?”
If English is not your first language, you’ve probably heard of statements similar to what I listed above. How do you react or respond to someone taking notice of your accent?
I would say that even in the Philippines, the country I was born in and grew up from, that I did get noticed for my “accent”. When I spoke English there, my accent is considered good. I sounded like I came from the US. When I moved to the US as an adult, I was considered as someone who “spoke English well” with a slight accent that makes people wonder and ask about my origins.
In the past 10 years, navigating life in the US away from my family, I have learned and I am continuously learning to adapt and respond to different scenarios I face. One of them is about my accent. I have to talk, a lot. I have to talk to communicate with colleagues, friends, partners, clients, strangers, everybody.
Rejecting my accent is rejecting my unique self
Sometimes an accent is considered a disadvantage, as it is too heavy or too thick. Some accents are considered sexy or exotic. As someone who gets asked about my accent, I am torn between feeling and thinking if people meant that my accent is a bad or a good thing.
I was going through some recorded presentations I have created for graduate school 5 years ago and I cannot help but laugh and sometimes get annoyed by listening to my voice. Do you hate listening to your own voice? I thought I don’t sound like how I wanted to be. I cannot pronounce some words the way others can. I am rejecting myself here.
Does my accent make me stand out from the crowd? Will I get rejected or accepted because of my accent? Will I get the job or not because of my accent? Will I get passed over for a promotion or fair salary because of my accent? Will people assume my level of intelligence based on my accent? What do people think when they hear my accent? Should I be ashamed of my accent?
Loud and proud with an accent
Or should I be proud of my accent? Is my accent part of my identity? Does my accent make me unique?
The more I think about how my accent is part of who I am, my history, my family, and my life experiences, I am becoming more comfortable embracing my accent as something that I should be proud of. My accent is not an ugly scar that needs to get a laser treatment to hide it. I know that even if I try to cover it up with accent reduction classes [I have not attended one] or any other means to sound more American, the truth will eventually come out.
When I get excited, my accent comes out. When I am frustrated, my accent reveals itself. When I am just being me, my accent is forever present. My accent is going to be with me for the rest of my life. And I am okay with that.
All accents are beautiful and they’re here to stay
I remember traveling to Europe with one of my childhood best friends 3 years ago. We were both born and raised in the Philippines and she moved to Ireland when we were teenagers. As we spent more time together, traveling between countries, our accents became a bowl of soup of accents between Filipino, Irish, American, Spanish, and some UFA. Yes, I just made that up, UFA - Unidentified Foreign Accent. During that month-long trip, I have visited places where I was fortunate to hear and enjoy so many beautiful accents such as Irish, Scottish, Icelandic, German, French, Danish, Hungarian, British, and some UFAs.
When I visited the Philippines and Japan 4 years ago, I returned to the US with what my co-workers considered a “thicker accent”. It only took 2 weeks of speaking Tagalog and getting by with some Nihonggo in Japan to lose whatever amount of American twang I have.
I am learning to accept that my accent is here to stay. I am hoping and envisioning a future where accents are no longer a basis for judgment, negative stereotypes, biases, and discrimination.
You. Do you have an accent, too?
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