Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What does your voice sound like abroad? Mine hurts British ears.

One of our teachers just posted the video above, and it made me laugh on this rainy Wednesday morning so I thought I'd share it with you.  It got me to thinking about all the accents in England & Scotland, and how hard it is to fit in when your voice gives you away as a foreigner.

I've spent a lot of time in countries around the world where I don't fit in. I have red hair & fair skin, and felt like a freak-show while building latrines & assisting eye cataract surgeries in Bangladesh.  People in the remote community I worked in had never seen a westerner like myself, and were unabashed at pointing out my oddities.  It's not rude to stare in Bangladesh, and it's something that took an awful lot of learning on my part to get used to.

Costa Rica & Guatemala are much more accustomed to foreigners, but again - redheads are uncommon.   I have fairly light red hair though (My mom always called it "Strawberry Blonde" when I was a kid, but I know she was just trying to make me feel better about being a redhead), so in Latin America they tend to just call it blonde.  The guys on the street loved my hair, and catcalls became a daily part of my existence there.

The point is -  I'm okay being a foreigner, I guess. I mean, you always want to blend in wherever you go right? In Bangladesh I had on the same clothes as everyone else within just a couple of days to try to blend a bit better (it didn't work by the way - this skin glows in the sun!).  But in England and Scotland, I thought I'd look like everyone else and that it would be easier to blend in.  My family is from England & Scotland, surely - I should fit in easily no?

London is a land of foreigners. Just sit on the tube & look around you - people are from virtually every country on the planet in London.  It is easy to blend in!

But ... and it's a big but ... your voice gives you away! 

Which shouldn't be an issue with people from around the world right? 

Wrong.

As I was told on numerous occasions in public places by complete strangers, "Well, you see, the American accent...it's just so... well, it hurts our ears."

What?!

My voice hurts your ears?!  Seriously?

Oh and I'm Canadian, by the way.

So what to do?  Besides shutting up in public & never speaking again?  I tried to speak more softly. I tried to speak quietly. I had repeat nightmares about being told off in public for being too loud.  I tried to speak more British, I really did.  But this girl speaks more like Dick Van Dyke than a proper Brit and really, it sounds silly on me.

Some of our teachers manage to blend in much better.  They have British boyfriends or girlfriends that they live with, and their accent changes much quicker as a result.  But then they come home to Canada, and they get made fun of for changing their accent so quickly (maybe not to their faces, but you know what you think when someone comes home after a year and suddenly speaks like a Londoner.  You read what they said about Madonna didn't you?).

There's not much any of us can do, but give up on blending in and just be ourselves, assaulting accents and all.

Do you have a story to share about your accent?  I'd love to hear it. Leave a comment below. Thanks!


Resources for Teaching in London
Classroom Canada
website
Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians ebook
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