Sunday, June 12, 2011

Having an Accent: Positive or Negative?

Hey everyone! How did the weekend go? Mine has been very busy trying to keep up with school work since finals are approaching! Can you believe we are almost done with this quarter? In a couple of weeks I'll be on my way to Barcelona, where a great summer is hopefully waiting for me! However, it is time now to focus on school. Tonight I'm preparing a presentation for a final project I have this week and started thinking about something. As I was practicing for it, I started worrying about my English pronunciation a lot. Now, it's not that I have a problem with the language, but I do (as most of the people from Spain) have an accent. I wouldn't say it's too thick compared to other Spanish people and I never (or almost never) had problems with being understood (which has easy solutions: repeating, slowing down, pictures, gestures, body language or a huge smile on your face). However, I started wondering, is having an accent a plus, or does it hurt?

It's not the first time I think about it. One of the greatest things of living in New York City is the opportunity to meet different people every single day you step out of your room. After almost a year here, there's a comment I've been hearing every other day: "love your accent!". While it doesn't bother me at all, it sometimes make me think. Are they making fun of it? Do they really like it? Is it the only thing they notice about me? Do they think I'm not understanding? Are they they talking to me like if I was a little kid? In the end I always come up with the same: it never was a problem, and it's a great way to "break the ice" when meeting people. However, it might become annoying some times.

Many people say that Americans love accents. However, New York is the biggest melting pot of accents I have ever seen, so I'm not sure if that works over here. In any case, it's true that many people still notice the accent and makes comments on it. The only few times I have been annoyed about it have been in formal situations. When you are trying to speak in front of people and you want them to pay attention on WHAT you're saying and not on HOW you say it. Nevertheless, it is part of the communication process, and I guess it's my job to make them focus on whatever I want them to. This is when I think having an accent is more of a disadvantage. You need an extra effort to make them forget about how you speak to focus on the content of your speech. 

I know no one would do it on purpose, but after having done your work, prepared whatever you wanted to say, gather the courage to stand in front of people to speak and hear someone ask "oh, so you're from Barcelona? you have an accent" is not so pleasant. Another scenario would be a job interview. You have been preparing it very carefully. You want them to know how much you want to be there and you want to let them know who you are and what you can offer to the company after having worked hard during your education. Then the first thing they tell you after hearing you is something about your accent!
As I said, it didn't happen many times and eventually you develop your own techniques when you want to be heard carefully. Maybe you can make your accent even thicker so that they need to hear more carefully to decode your words! Anyways, I'm very lucky that this is not happening at school, since there are so many international students and different accents that I almost feel local! 

However, in the bright side, sometimes the accent can be used as a weapon. It's the easiest way to change the topic of an uncomfortable situation! It's also a nice way to gain some extra attention (if you know what I mean!), even though I'm afraid French and Italian guys might win in that one. Mispronouncing some words when you're with friends is funny most of the times. If it makes people laugh, then people have a good time. Guess what? People like people that make them smile! My advice is to not to worry too much about it and laugh with them, as long as no one is disrespecting you. Also, don't let it be the only thing people notice about you, be who you are and show them you can be fun beyond your accent.

Moreover, and above all, it's part of our identity. The way I speak tells a lot about myself. I might be learning a lot and improving my language skills, but no one will ever ask me if I'm from California. I'm sure I will always have the accent and I just decided not to worry anymore about it. As long as it's not a communication barrier (and I can tell it is not!), I think it's a beautiful thing. It's nice that everyone can communicate in the same language and yet speak in different ways.

Have a great week and see you soon!

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