Have you ever been surprised by the way you sound on a recording? I always sound strange to myself.
For almost 30 years I have tried to get my English as polished as possible. One of my main objectives, as an immigrant, has always been to integrate and simply become accepted. It still disappoints me a bit when I meet someone new and, at some point, I get the question: “So where are you from, originally?”. Roughly translated I interpret that as the equivalent of: “You don’t sound like one of us. Where are you from originally?” and it always makes me feel a bit like “the gig is up.” It is a clear indicator that my integration objective has not really been reached yet.
Are you speaking a second, third, or even fourth language fluently? Chances are, like me, no matter how hard you try, it is difficult to speak completely without a foreign accent. Isn’t it maddening that you can’t hear your own accents, or even the way your voice sounds to others, because you are locked in our own boney resonance chamber?
So why do we have foreign accents in the first place? Scientifically, it is simply because a secondary language is being filtered through the sound system of a first language. The only way to avoid one is to start young. Small kids are much better at acquiring multiple sound systems. Unfortunately, as you become older, sounding native is much more challenging.
Over the years I have come to realize that, in reality, literally everyone has an accent, even if it is just the one you learned as a native speaker because you were born in a geographic location or belong to a specific culture.
Take my own native Dutch, for example. The two main groups who speak the language — the Flemish and the Dutch — live next door to one another. But they’ve been evolving in separate countries — Belgium and Holland — for over 190 years. As a result, we sound differently not unlike Americans and British do.
Nowadays, I have started to take pride in my being different. After more consideration, I recommend that we should wear our accents as badges of honor and an indication of the courage it took to learn a language that was not originally our own. Whether you realize it or not, everybody has an accent, even if it is only in somebody else’s opinion!
Are you aware of your accent? Does it make you self-conscious as well?