The idea of writing this stemmed from a question from KL whose cousin now speaks like an Aussie after spending 12 years there. KL’s question was whether I lost my Singaporean accent after being here for the last 8 years.
The thing is, I don’t sound Japanese when I speak in Japanese and I am very aware of that. Sometimes it’s deliberate, but many times it’s not under my control. A Japanese friend once told me, I would sound Japanese until I get excited and speak very quickly. According to her, when I get excited talking about something, it would become very obvious that I’m a foreigner speaking Japanese. So, truth is, I’m not great with accents.
Having not been hanging out with Singaporeans much during my time here, I don’t get to speak in the Singaporean accent much. Neither do I use Singlish for the same reason. But I don’t mimic mainstream UK or US accents. I just speak in a tone that I believe people can understand, which I still do think reveals my Singaporean roots.
If you ask if I’ve lost my Singaporean accent, I would say no. But I’ve met many people who were surprised when I say I’m from Singapore because, in their words, “you don’t sound Singaporean.” Some 1 or 2 years ago, when I was visiting Nagoya and put up at a guesthouse near downtown Sakae, I met a gentleman from America. The morning I was scheduled to check out, we happened to have breakfast at the same table and began talking. After some time, he decided to ask where I’m from. To quote him, “I’ve been to most places around Asia but I’m having the hardest time placing your accent.” I do think I still sound Singaporean, but according to him, who’s lived in Singapore for a few years, “No, Singaporeans don’t sound like that.”
Some few years earlier, a reader of my blog visited Japan and we had coffee together. Since she knew I was from Singapore, there wasn’t any confusion to my origin, but she also made the same comment: “You don’t sound Singaporean at all.”
When I returned home for the New Year and met some friends for dinner a few years ago, some of those friends commented that I speak different than I used to. They couldn’t really pinpoint what it was that’s different but they said something was definitely different. One of them even joked, “Do you still remember how to speak Singlish?”
I’ve never really given much thought about whether I sound Singaporean when I speak with people even though at one point in time, I had thought I wanted to alter my accent. But what I realized when I interact with Singaporeans is that, I had to tell myself to switch to the Singaporean accent. Many times, I have to make the deliberate effort to change and sometimes, I even pause to listen to the way they speak and then mimic them in my speech. When I think about it, I sometimes get oh-yeah moments hearing people speak Singlish. I would think, “Oh, that’s right! There’s that word in Singlish.”
With KL’s question, I discovered a lot about myself. I realized that I’m gradually speaking and typing Singlish like I would do a foreign language. Even on Facebook, I have to pause and think how to put something in Singlish, or at least the way a Singaporean would put it, before I send a comment on a post. I no longer type quickly and smoothly in Singlish and more often than not, I have to re-read what I typed to make sure it sounds Singaporean. It’s literally a proofreading of my Singlish sentences.
In spite of all that, I’m still pretty certain I haven’t lost everything about my speech but I’ve definitely lost confidence in speaking and writing like a Singaporean.