In America they think I’m British, in France they think I’m German, in Germany they think I’m Dutch. In Spain they think I’m mentally handicapped.
I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been terrible with accents. Anyone with some knowledge of whatever language I’m speaking can tell in about four seconds that I sound like a have a potato in my mouth, as an Argentinian friend who barley spoke English himself managed to tell me.
Let’s start with my regular accent. The Australian one. I’m often told that it’s fairly neutral for an Australian. I’m hoping this is not made in comparison with Paul Hogan or Stevey Irwin, in which case I’m not really sure this means anything. It’s like saying that Colin Farrell has a fairly neutral Irish accent when compared to Brad Pitt in Snatch.
All that aside, I’m well aware that my accent used to be much broader. It’s been a result of spending a great deal more time around international students in the last two and a half years, not all of whom have fantastic English skills. You simply can’t speak in crazy ochre dialect with a girl from Barcelona who has to ask her British friend to translate it into normal English. I came up with 2 options.
- Speak to them as fast as you like, but in a much exaggerated version of their accent, in an attempt to help them understand you, and simultaneously show them that their accent can also make it hard to understand them and that they should make an effort to get used to the Aussie accent. I’ve used this a few times, but I felt like such an arse that I shelved it alongside the other last resorts (saying the same thing louder, and google translate), and switched to option two.
- Forego all slang whatsoever, speak with as little accent as possible, use small words, and even switch phrasing to make it more akin to direct translations in other languages (eg. ‘make a party’, ‘take a drink’).
After a while, this tactic starts to rob your of your accent. Even when it floods back into my speech, which it did as soon as I was left alone with other Australians, I still feel like the aussie twang was somewhat dimmed.
On a side note, Americans (or anyone else) thinking that we’re British doesn’t bother me anymore. Our accents are bound to be a lot closer to each other, Australia having only been settled by the English two and a half centuries ago. And whilst we get exposed to the American culture from an early age, when was the last time your average Yank watched Offspring, SeaChange, or even Neighbours? Give them a break.
The other accents? Well, my German version has always been pretty terrible. I love the German accent, and my mother’s hochdeutsch is spot-on enough for a few Bavarians to mistake her for a Hamburger. So I really have no excuse for doing such a poor impression of a German. And it didn’t help that when I finally did develop a tiny hint of an accent, it was heavily influenced by my roommates, who were for the most part Schwäbisch, and from a region whose accent is heavily ridiculed even by other Germans (hell, even by other members of their own state).
I still don’t know why other Germans constantly mistook me for a Dutchman though. I’ve never been terribly offended by this, as my Opa, who I like to think I take after, was a proud Amsterdamer and a booming Dutchman to boot. A drunk Münchener recently explained to me that he thought I was Dutch, because I’m tall and don’t understand German very well (he was Bayerisch, for god’s sake). Faint praise, if any at all.
I like to think that my French accent is a little better, but that didn’t stop a French teacher in 2011 holding the class up until I gave the correct pronunciation for a certain sentence. Yet I feel my excuse for any mishaps in my French is quite valid; whilst French places a considerable amount of emphasis on consonants, Australians have always insisted on pronouncing about half of the consonants in any given word. Still, I feel like anybody who learns a language on and off for roughly twelve years should have some sort of mastery over SOME form of regional accent. Ahh well.
As for Spanish, I barely speak any of the language, but my professor was Catalan, so there goes any chance of using what little vocabulary I do possess in a legible manner.
At least I’m tall, I guess.