Altering My Accent

My ego was battered before when I was told by an American interviewer at a large gaming company that he didn’t think my spoken English was good enough to handle daily communication at the office. Granted, I do not think my English standard is anything to brag about, but I had thought it was at the very least, decent. The feedback shocked me as having spoken English most of my life, I get someone telling me I can’t handle daily communication at the office.

Rather than being offended, I felt I had to take it seriously and decided to look for ways to improve my English. I asked a friend in the UK and an Australian colleague separately on how they feel I could improve my English. Both went, “What? Why?” and declined to answer my question.

I then related the story and was told, “Don’t be silly. Your English is perfectly fine. There are tons of stupid people around who think your English suck because of your accent.” I felt relieved but at the same time upset that my accent was still too blatant in spite of my effort to speak without a Singaporean accent at the interview. I have since made the decision to alter my accent. I’ve thought about it many years ago but never really got down to doing it. This time, I will, regardless of what you think of it. For the first time, I recorded myself speaking in what I thought to be “not a Singaporean accent” and played it back. It sounded totally the opposite. Gotta practice more.

Singaporeans tend to be very unforgiving about fellow Singaporeans speaking with foreign accents, which makes me feel repulsed by the idea of going back home even more. It doesn’t even matter if it sounds perfectly natural. Years ago, when I was attending the lecture of a Malaysian professor who used to live in the UK and hence had developed an English accent, a fellow English major student turned to me and said, “Fucking Malaysian with an English accent.”

I went, “What’s wrong with that?”

And he went, “If you’re a Malaysian, you should fucking speak like one!”

To think education would liberalize one’s thinking. I was surprised how such an outstanding student as he was had such a narrow mind.

But think about it. If it’s perfectly fine to want to sound like a native Japanese when speaking Japanese, why is that otherwise for the English language?

Linguistics scholars think people judge your standard of English by grammatical use and not by accent. The truth is, there are people around who judge you by your accent. While teaching in Aichi, and having had to choose students for the annual speech contest, I was for choosing a student whom I felt had better grasp and potential, but eventually, another student, M, who had an American accent was chosen. In fact, even before the audition, the teacher in charge was saying he had already decided to choose student M. I felt that was disrespectful to other students.

I have no intention to mimick the American or British accent, but I hope to alter it to a neutral one. One that no one will think I can’t handle daily conversation anymore.


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