How Your Accent Can be Used to Demean You

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The English spoken in my country is more British oriented since we were once a colony of Britain. The various ethnic groups all speak different “mother tongues” or languages together with English and Swahili. The average person therefore speaks at least three languages. It follows that most people have different accents when speaking another language outside their mother tongue. Some may have problems with letter “h” when it is together with “s” and may pronounce “she” as “see”. Others may have problems with letter “r” and “l” and pronounce “light” as “right” and “right” as “light” among such.

This off course is based on the fact that their tongue does a trick on them based on the first language they acquired or perhaps they think in their mother tongue hence the problem with how letters are received in the brain. We jokingly make fun of each others accents in my country of birth because the accents reveal what ethnic group one comes from. Not everyone however has this issue of mother tongue accent. Some people will speak without the common accent of their ethnicity in particular those born in the cities. They do not however speak English like the English because they are not English.

Before I came to the United States of America I never thought much about my accent when it came to speaking English. I don’t have the common accent attributed to people from my ethnic background and I learnt to speak English early on as a child. But that does not mean I speak like an English person by the very fact that I am not English. I also speak my mother tongue and three other languages. You can imagine my surprise when I came to America and I realized that even though I spoke good English some people could not “understand” me. I realized quickly enough that British English is very different from American English.

Words are pronounced and spelled differently and some words are just not used in America. I once told someone that something would be ready in a fortnight and they looked at me as if I was speaking a different language. A fortnight for those who don’t know is two weeks. I also discovered certain words are spelt missing certain vowels in American English. These are words like color and harbor which are spelt without a “u” after the “o”.

What was surprising and hurting however was the realization that my different accent was something that was used to demean me. It was not just that I had a different accent but it seemed to signify that I was inferior because of my different accent. Many times I have been “corrected” when I said something, not that I was wrong but I said it in a way that was not according to the “correct” accent. For example I might say a word and then someone says in a degrading manner, “oh you mean, —”. But the worst is when someone told me “you need to learn how to speak English”. I asked them, you mean speak like an American or speak English? They could not answer since they were really trying to demean me.

What frustrates me is that sometimes the person correcting you speaks awful English but to them my different accent is something of a power tool against me. I pronounce my words differently based on the vowel usage which is different from how Americans use vowels. People who demean others based on the fact that they speak English differently expose their ignorance because they assume that they do not have an accent. When I listen to an American speak English, I hear the difference in their accent and usage of Language from another English speaking person. They also speak different from me so to me they have a different accent.

Those who use this issue to demean others ought to consider that the people they are looking down upon speak other languages on top of the English language. If you as an American were to speak those other languages I can assure you that you will speak them with an American accent, and that is okay. So please give a break to those who do not speak like you. They are not inferior; in fact most of them are highly achieved persons. Our differences should not be used as means of feeling superior or making others feel inferior instead it should be something to celebrate because we can learn from each other.


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