How I learned to stop worrying and love my accent
One of the funniest episodes of Modern Family features Gloria, the character played by Colombian actress Sofia Vergara, presenting her husband on the show with a very unusual gift: a box containing baby Jesus. He is very surprised about the unusual present, but finally discovers that what she was trying to order was a box of baby cheeses. The confusion took place because of Gloria’s accent.
Accents: love them, hate them, but you could never ignore them. Dealing with a wide variety of accents is part of living in the world, and particularly in a big city. Growing up in Ecuador (South America), I was familiar with regional accents, and the diverse ways that Spanish is spoken in different countries, but I wasn’t aware of the kind of foreign accents you hear in the English-speaking world.
I moved to the US and learned English in my 20s, way past the deadline for a human brain to absorb the sounds that come naturally to a native English speaker. No matter how hard I try, I will always sound like Pepé Le Pew, or perhaps more like Speedy Gonzalez. The accent is always there, lingering.
There have been many instances when I disliked my accent. Even though I’ve never accidentally gotten a box of baby Jesus with I wanted Babybels, I can remember many occurrences when I felt self-conscious for the way I sound when speaking English. How could I forget when people laughed because of my unique way of pronouncing Chicago or Chevy? The “ch” sound in Spanish is different. The same thing happened once when I said “banilla” instead of “vanilla.” I hid my humiliation in front of my coworkers and tried to explain that although “b” and “v” do exist as symbols in Spanish, the sounds are the same, and our ears are not trained to recognize them.
Dealing with sounds that we don’t use in our native languages was an interesting dynamic at my ESL classes. I learned that I was far from the only one who had an accent thanks to the place that I grew up. For example, Eastern European people in my class couldn’t pronounce the “th” sound, and so would say “zank you” instead of “thank you.”
My fellow Ecuadorians living in the USA will agree with me about the huge struggle that it takes to train our tongue to pronounce words that for native English speakers seem simple. “Spaghetti,” for example, sounds more like “espaguetti” when we saw it, and when you tell your friends what your first language is, it comes out like this: I speak “Espanish.”
Living in the United States and having an accent is a daily challenge. But people like Sofia Vergara and Arnold Schwarzenegger taught me that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, in many cases, an accent is proof that you speak more than one language.My accent will be with me for the rest of my life. What I’ve learned is to embrace that accent. I’ve made it work for me. Slowly, I learned that my accent was a part of who I am and where I came from. I don’t want to get rid of that.
Mireya Denigris is an Ecuadorian journalist. She was born in the Andes, on the skirt of a large volcano called “Neck of the Moon” (The Cotopaxi) in Latacunga-Ecuador. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband.You can follow her on Twitter @Mireyadenigris.
[Image courtesy ABC]