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?