Edan Chrysler (nachtebuch) wrote in linguaphiles,
Edan Chrysler

Accent learning and keeping it going.

Hi everyone! So this might be a bit of a fun one. There's also a bit of storytelling so I've put everything under a cut. It's basically about my experience trying to pick up and internalise a new accent.

So, the gist of it. I was born in Hong Kong but spent most of my life being educated in Singapore (my dad moved when I was barely a year old). As a result, I've largely spoken English with a fairly obviously Singaporean accent, but it's rather toned down because i) it's not what I speak at home and ii) the extent of influence from generically British or American forms of speech is greater the further up the education spectrum you go.

I've always been largely good with accents in general, but that was usually when I did impressions or was just mucking about with my friends. Two years ago I came over to London for university and, with a British passport in hand (thank you, Hong Kong), I figured that this was my chance to maybe really sort out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My primary aim became assimilation, and a few months in I realised that I really wanted to give serious theatre work a shot. Whatever I might end up doing, my mind was set on assimilation, and I set myself the task of paying very close attention to how my cousins, who were born and raised here in London, spoke, and to see if I could gradually ease myself in. I would watch shows and repeat lines to myself, listen out on the Underground or at uni to the way people spoke, and basically just bounce off other people.

Two years on, I've had some very interesting results and experiences. I suspect that I now speak with a broadly Southeast English accent -- 'suspect', because I'm trying not to be overly self-conscious about it -- but I realised that there were a number of words I never really learnt to properly pronounce ('vinyl' and 'cameo' are among them). A mate from church pointed it out to me a couple of weeks ago but he thought it was merely a regional difference (I don't think it is). Those realisations aside, though, I've found myself having some fairly mixed responses about it: during the early stages of learning, some people thought I was from the States — but most of them weren't actually English, and the usual assumption about an East Asian person speaking good English is that he/she is from America ... I don't even know. Over time, though, more people I met generally just didn't really think twice about the way I spoke, and/or they would just assume that I was from somewhere around the area. On the other hand, while I largely feel okay and quite confident about talking sometimes (and I don't really notice that I'm speaking any differently though I *am* speaking very differently from before I came here), there are days when I feel like my tongue is winding up and my lips are losing control and I can't seem to speak properly. No one else really notices but on those days I get a bit more self-conscious. Also, I recently started paying attention to English accents outside of Southeast England (it's hard not to), but the trade-off appears to be that because my mind seems to draw on what it knows, I get the suspicion that I very occasionally lapse for a handful of words into a pitching that might or might not be somewhat northern.

So, the point of this post: I thought I'd share my experience with trying to move from a non-standard English accent to a mainstream accent for assimilation and the sort of results I've been getting along the way. Has anyone experienced similar things to what I've mentioned, or have things been different, and what are some of the methods that you've found to be helpful to keeping things going and other tips or ideas in general? I'm interested primarily in English here, but if you have experiences in other languages with moving from a 'foreign' accent into a regional one, do share as well!

P.S. I know there are people in the world who consider such accent-learning behaviour 'pretentious' or 'inauthentic', but the whole point of this post isn't to judge such matters. Please don't turn this post into something negative like that.
Tags: accents, english dialects

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