First encounters often tend to be rich in the elements of awkwardness and in my case such occasions are also accompanied by crippling shyness and an obviously foreign accent. Normally, first conversations start off with casual salutations, shift into idle discussions about the weather and eventually plummet into an unsettling silence. If one is lucky enough one may uncover a previously unknown commonality with the other speaker, which would evidently salvage the conversation. However, I have always shied away from inquiring about others’ lives and as people frequently comment on the phonetically alien quality of my speech I often feel discouraged to converse with them. Therefore, lowering the chances that I and the person I’m addressing will learn about the similarities we share.
I believe that in such situations it is easier for me to overcome my shyness than to mask my accent because with enough effort I can push myself to be more outgoing, but, my attempts to sound convincingly “American” always tend to end up as failures. It’s rather frustrating and even amusing at times that one of the first questions strangers ask me is: “Where are you from?” What bugs me about this question is that people are not interested in knowing about my origins within U.S.A borders. I know this because if I answer saying that I am from Massachusetts they often chuckle and refine their question. “No, silly, where are you from from”- They add. When asked this I start reassessing everything I said and did prior to being posed this question, as I wish to understand what exactly branded me as a foreigner. If I stare back at them long enough, after they’ve asked this, they start to feel embarrassed and attempt to explain that it’s not that I don’t look like I’m from the U.S.A. It’s just that my “cute” accent, as they often say, suggests otherwise.
Although, “cute” may be a positive adjective I do not perceive it as so in these circumstances; because if my “cute” accent suggests that I’m not from the U.S.A it may also convince many that I do not speak English well. I am quite aware of the fact that I am not originally from the U.S. and I am proud of my African origins, although, my motherland is rather minuscule and many are incapable of locating it on a map. However, after spending so many years in this country and putting so much effort into acquiring a proper level of proficiency in the English language, I find it offensive that people have the need to covertly remind me of my linguistic shortfall in pronunciation.
It is not as if all Americans speak the same standard form of English across all states. Those born and raised in the South sound contrastingly different from people up North, and the same applies for Americans in the Eastern and Western ends of the country. Yet, these regional differences in phonetic and intonation patterns do not pose that big of a problem, as long as you’re not a non-white immigrant. In the case of immigrants, their fragmented English is often scrutinized and mocked. At times one may even be automatically thought of as being uneducated just because they cannot pronounce a word in the manner that everyone else does. This can be specially damaging to those who are in the initial stages of learning English. There have been numerous times when I have felt too uncomfortable to utter a word in front of others just because I was afraid I’d mispronounce it, and I am sure I’m not the only person to have felt this way. If one is too afraid to practice the spoken version of language then how is one expected to ever be capable of properly communicating in the said language?
Due to all this I believe that it is time we start embracing the linguistic diversity of those around us as it does not matter that my speech is not an identical reflection of everyone else’s. Let us stop pointing out that someone has an accent, they are probably aware of the fact that their pronunciation is not like everyone else’s. Saying that someone’s accent is cute is not a compliment, it simply points out that they sound different and that may make the person feel self-conscious about the way they speak. Having an accent does not mean someone’s an idiot either. Those people whom some assume are dumb may speak several other languages and be excellent communicators in their native tongues. Let us try to appreciate the fact that not everyone is like us or speaks like us and in that manner we may end up learning something new about someone else.