By Tara Toroghi
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the term “accent” is defined as “the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words” (2022). Some examples of accents include Canadian, British, American (such as Southern or Boston accent), French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Persian, Jamaican and so much more! The latter highlights that while we may think differently, everyone who speaks English has a distinct accent, including Canadian, British, and American individuals. For example:
- Canadians say “about”as “a-boot”.
- British citizens say “British” as “Bri-ish”.
- Southern Americans say “you all” as “y’all”.
While these different pronunciations show that everyone has an accent, some accents are seen as “inferior” which impacts people’s experiences when speaking English. As a result, accents bring up different emotions for different people. It can make someone feel confident in their ability to speak a language aside from their mother tongue. It can also be a reason why someone feels embarrassed because their accents are preventing others from fully understanding them.
I have experienced a few uncomfortable situations firsthand by speaking my first language – Farsi. During my early teenage years, I was teased by family members for pronouncing words in Farsi with an accent. I was mortified, uncomfortable, and from that moment, I decided to limit speaking Farsi out of fear. A few days later, I witnessed my mother experience a similar situation while speaking English in a grocery store. I noticed that the encounter did not stop my mother from speaking English despite her accent. Watching my mother remain confident made me realize that having an accent is a strength as it shows one’s ability to persevere and learn.
Today, I believe having an accent is something that one should be proud of because whether they have taken the time and effort to learn a whole new language or it’s a part of their mother tongue, their accent is a part of their identity. I had the opportunity to interview a few who use English as their Additional Language regarding their experiences associated with their accent as well as if they believed there is a correlation between accents and fluency.
Q: When was the first time someone mentioned your accent to you and how did that experience impact you?
- “Although I am proud of myself for learning a completely new language, when my accent was pointed out, I felt self-conscious. However, I did not allow that to stop me from speaking English because practice makes perfect.”
- “Everyone has an accent. The first time someone mentioned my accent was when I traveled to Seattle for a conference after living in BC for a couple of years. This surprised me and made me question myself during presentations and job interviews, however, I did not allow that experience to hinder my growth.”
- “The first time someone mentioned my accent was in the fourth grade. One of my classmates made fun of me when I was presenting a skit. From that moment, I have been self-conscious of the way I speak, especially with my pronunciation. Experiencing this at such a young age has made me doubt my abilities when it comes to speaking English.”
- “The first time my accent was mentioned, I was four and baffled. One of the parents at my school told me I had an adorable African accent, and I couldn’t help but be confused about what that meant. It would be like saying someone has a European accent. German? French? What does that even mean? But I was four, so I said thank you then learned to tie a shoelace.”
- “My mother sounds distinctly British. Which means that sometimes… I sound distinctly British. People seem to find that incredibly distinguished, posh, intelligent even. When I get excited, however, I might find myself sliding into more AAVE, which has almost the direct opposite effect on people then when I sound British.”
Q: In your experience, are accents and fluency related or unrelated?
- “In my opinion, there is no correlation between having an accent and fluency. One can have an accent when speaking English but they can be as fluent as an English First Language speaker.”
- “I believe that accents are more fluency based. I focus on whether I can understand the person speaking rather than judging their accents.”
- “Accents can affect fluency of communication; however, rather than focusing on people’s pronunciation, I believe that listening skills need to be improved if one is unable to understand someone speaking with an accent.”
- “In my experience, fluency has nothing to do with accent. Fluency is about being able to speak on a topic while accents depend on one’s geographical location.”
- “In my experience, accent and fluency have almost no correlation. Though, clarity is occasionally an issue (just go to Newfoundland). However, I’ve found that an accent can change people’s perceptions of fluency and ability.”
- “I’ve found that the way we interact with people, fluency or not, has more to do with perceptions of the accent they use than with how well they speak our language. I’ve also found that it’s easy to forget, when surrounded by people who speak like us, that there is no such thing as not having an accent. Everyone’s from somewhere after all.”
As mentioned above, everyone has an accent, and based on the answers given for their personal experiences, most interviewees felt shame when their accents were mentioned. However, all of them continued pursuing the language for personal, educational, and professional goals. Regarding the correlation of fluency and accent, there were mixed views as some believed that accents affect fluency while others said that there is no correlation between the two. Something that stood out to me was how some interviewees mentioned that people should further exercise their listening skills rather than judge someone for their accent.
What is an experience that impacted your view on accents? Did this blog change your view on accents? If so, how? Feel free to share your thoughts and leave a comment below!
Remember, your accent is a sign of intelligence. Speak loudly and speak proudly!
Cambridge University Press. (2022). Accent. Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/accent
Teacher, writer, and free-spirit, Tara is someone who encourages people to embrace their authentic selves and live their life’s purpose. Growing up in an immigrant household, she witnessed and experienced judgment when it came to accents when speaking English and Farsi. Writing about this topic is Tara’s way of spreading awareness and showing acceptance of accents.