If you are an expat, and you have to communicate in your second language on a daily basis. I am sure these questions (and feelings) will be familiar.
- Have you ever felt annoyed by comments about your foreign accent?
- Have you felt embarrassed for not being able to pronounce some sounds the same way a native speaker does?
- Have you ever felt funny about answering the phone? I have felt so uneasy about the phone. Sometimes I felt like hanging up on the person..
- Have people ever asked you to repeat the word after them, and the only thing you can see is big lips articulating a sound that your mouth cannot make?
- Have you ever been chased by this chart? I have.
I felt annoyed by all those things. In order to be understood I tried to repeat sounds over and over again. Sometimes I would stand in front of the mirror, looking at my lips trying to repeat words that sounded so similar and still didn’t sound the same to a native. And today, there are still many sounds that my Spanish speaking brain, tongue and mouth cannot get use to articulate in English. The more I tried, the more disappointed I got. I suppose I learned a second language late in life. And lets face it, there is an accent, and perhaps it will be there for the rest of my life. I have an accent and I just love it!
To get to love my accent, was a process. It did not happen immediately, it took a good 8 years of frustration, pride and madness. I hated my accent at first, not because I wanted to be somebody different, but because I wanted to be able to speak perfectly. After all, I was, I am and I will be a roll model for my kids. I just wanted to do my best. Another issue that also affected my attitude was to have a mother in law that was constantly making notice of my English mistakes, and of course that included my accent. I finally got the courage to tell her, “I am sorry my accent frustrates you, but it is my limp. It is part of me.” She looked at me and said, ” it does not frustrate me, now pronounce the p of limp a little harder.”
It took acceptance, love and courage to know that my accent is what defines me as a bilingual Latina and not what defines my success as a mother and woman.
The first 5 years, were hard work years. I wanted to become proficient. I spoke little and listened a lot. I read, wrote and repeated. I accepted correction with humbleness. I worked hard at my English phonics and at my spelling. But the accent was still there. My r’s were slightly rolling. Words like Jon and John were still sounding alike (sometimes still do). I asked to get a bug and I ended up with a bag. It was frustrating. Add to the equation that I tend to speak softly and Americans speak loud. It was tough… but looking back, it was worth it.
The next 3 years, were my “I had it”, years. I kind of starting to rebel to the people that were asking me to repeat stuff. I started to just ignore people’s reactions. I started to laugh more at my own mistakes, and started to correct my mistakes not to please others, but to please myself. Funny thing, my Spanish started to have a bit of an English accent. I started to enjoy life with an accent and mistakes. Spanglish-house was born and I was not afraid of showing who I really am.
Today, I am just enjoying my Accent and Ethnicity. I kind of feel bad for the people that still struggle to accept other accents in their lives. Recognizing where I came from and where I want to go has been a beautiful process. Comments about my accent, do not bother me anymore. I do not need to speak like a native, because I am not one. I am Latina, Boliviana y bien Sudamerica; and I am proud of it! And even though sometimes it feels like a limp, because I need to speak slower, louder or just explain myself better. It is a beautiful limp, because it defines who I am. It reminds me where I come from and where I want to go. It connects me to my heritage and brings more diversity to this beautiful world.
Proud of having an Accent, I made a list of what my accent says,
- I am Bolivian.
- I am Latina.
- I am bilingual, or multilingual.
- I have more than one culture.
- I have traveled.
- I can get used to other people’s foreign accents, without criticizing them.
- I can learn faster another language.
- I can understand jokes that go beyond words, because to understand a language implies to understand a culture.
- I can be a translator and an interpreter.
- I can write, read, listen and speak in two languages ( perhaps more)
- I can be happier, because I see beyond frontiers.