Potatoe, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto- The International Student and The Accent

So, U of T, let me stir up a bit of trouble-

is it lift or elevator?

is it petrol or gas?

are they running shoes or joggers?

is it Herbal Essences or ‘Erbal Essences? (come on, it’s got to be the first, I sound like a pirate whenever I say the second).

NUT-ella or NEWT-ella? (I prefer to stay silent on this extremely touchy and controversial subject but I’ll just say this- last I checked, it wasn’t made of hazel-newts. I’m just saying! ...please don’t kill me.)

a spoon dipping temptingly into a jar of nutella
source: im-free29200.tumblr.com

Well, okay, barring that last one- these are just a few examples of the very real struggle involved with shifting from the way things are said in one country to another (yet another chapter in the #internationalstudentproblems series).

Only it gets a little bit more interesting when you’re actually saying these words and others out loud, a little something I like to call...The Curse of the Accent.

As amusing as it can be to watch people hear me speak and then internally struggle with the politest way to ask where I’m from, it can sometimes lead to a lot of annoying situations- to name a few, scribbled-over essay drafts replacing s’s with z’s (organiSe, organiZe, analySe, analyZe- you get my drift), angry red lines erupting underneath letters as you type on Microsoft Word, even getting directed to the wrong address because of how you pronounced or interpreted a few words.

But besides trivialities like these, a lot of times this past year, I felt like the way I spoke could be a hindrance instead of something to be proud of.

Despite the fact that English is my first language and all my life, I’ve been educated at an English-medium institution following a British-based curriculum, I found it a bit unnerving coming somewhere where everybody speaks differently. It affected me in more ways than one- sometimes holding me back from conversations, blowing my confidence if I stumbled over a word or two or resorting to silently nodding along to discussions.

edward scissorhands meekly nodding
source: http://heckyeahreactiongifs.tumblr.com/post/62977236289

Trying to inject hints of Western-ness into my accent met with little success, I found, only making me even more conscious of the effort I was putting in to sound different (though I do a mean Valley Girl accent, just ask my roommate).

Let’s face it- I am not among those who can spend a summer in London and come back talking like Prince William.

Top Gear gif featuring: Richard Hammond on being british, saying 'now i can say this with utter confidence because im british'
source: snuffleupagus-gifs.tumblr.com

Which led me to the inevitable question- What, then, is the accent of success?

The quest to answer this took me to places outside my comfort zone- trying new things like taking interactive workshops, going out to more events to meet and really have meaningful conversations with people in an attempt to understand what it was that was making me uncomfortable to speak my mind.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t as much about the accent as it was about being confident and my attitude towards it. The more I focused and thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt but the more I shook myself loose and got over my inhibitions, the more fluid my speech got.

mispronounced a word? verbal faux pas? i think not. take a note from good ol' swifty and shake it off
mispronounced a word? uh oh- verbal faux pas? i think not. take a note from good ol' swifty and shake it off

And at the end of the day, I am more than my accent, just as we all are more than the way we speak, the places we were born, the colour of our skin or the clothes we wear. 

I feel like my hybrid Western/South Asian accent is a testament to who I am and where I come from and there’s something to be proud of in that.

Moral of the story: there's no need to change who you are to try and fit in!

Now, if you’ll excusez-moi, I’ve got to go work on perfecting that French accent in time for class next week! Au revoir, U of T!

(PS, if you’re an international student wanting to polish up your English skills, there are some excellent conversation circles and workshops to help you through your linguistic journeys).

Good luck!

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