Slowing down

I’ve had to change my accent.

I’ve always been a bit of an accent chameleon. It subtly alters to mimic the speech patterns of whoever I’m with, as I mentioned in this post a long time ago. But this is the first time I’ve ever done it consciously, moving from simply enunciating more clearly to actually forcing myself to talk in something approaching an American accent.

The children I’m teaching are aged from 6 to 9 years old, and have an amazingly good understanding of written English, vocabulary, and grammar. But when it comes to spoken English, they need you to slow right down and speak very, very deliberately. Unfortunately, when I do this, it highlights the differences in pronunciation between my Norn Irish accent and the accents that are all they’ve heard until now. All their teachers have been from North America. Not only that, but any CD listening exercises they have in class are recorded by American voices. And also, they watch American TV and movies. The sudden introduction of a Norn Irish accent has thrown them into a state of confusion.

Please, Hayley-teacha, speak slowwwwwly! said Suzie, as a blank look came over her little face and she strained to pick out some words she recognised from my sentence. That’s when I realised that it was the accent that was causing the problem, since I’d already been speaking extremely slowly. I panicked momentarily, and then in a flash of inspiration switched to an American accent. Relief came over the faces of the pupils, and it hit me: I’m going to have to be American.

My name was the first thing to change. In a Northern Irish accent, slowed down, “Hayley” is pronounced something like “Hee-al-lay”. And that vowel sound in the first syllable (or first two syllables, I suppose) is incomprehensible to Asians. So I’ve had to start looking out for it in other words, and adopting a new accent for those: “ghee-yit” becomes “gate”, “fee-ass” becomes “face”, “eee-yit” becomes “eight”, “mee-ah-be” becomes “maybe”… all with a “y” sound in the middle of them. It’s exhausting. And then there’s the whole “how now, brown cow” fiasco. Northern Irelanders don’t tend to pronounce that end “w”, and it seems to turn into more of a “yu” sound. Blank expressions all around.

So, by the time you next see me, my accent will very likely be unrecognisable. Y’all be kind to me and don’t, like, laugh at me, know what I’m saying, man?


8 thoughts on “Slowing down

  1. Oh, I read Dr. Seuss to them today! But it was “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket”. They absolutely loved it. It taught them the concept of rhyme, and now they’re making up words to rhyme with pretty much every English word they know. :)

  2. When I first lived in London I worked in an art gallery. One of the most common questions I was asked was ‘what time does the gallery close?’. I’d reply ‘eee-ate’ and would be met with blank looks. I became horribly self-conscious about it and eventually when I got tired of repeating it attempting to pronounce in different ways I’d just say ‘the number that comes between 7 and 9’.

  3. I’ve been saying “eyt” for quite a while now, since no one outside of Northern Ireland can understand “eee-ate”. And I try my best to remember to put a ‘w’ into “shower”, instead of saying “shar”. But now it just seems like I can’t say a single word in my natural accent! Feels really weird.

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