Having been inspired by the recent theme of accents on two of my recent follows (Notes from the UK and Not Another Tall Blog) I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring and weigh in on the subject. As with the others I’ve always regarded myself to have rather a neutral accent, however I’ve come to realise that this may not be the case.
Given that I am an English teacher, accents are incredibly important in my life right now. Typically, teachers in Korea are encouraged to speak and teach only the North American accent, as much of a lark as that it seeing as there are more accents than states, or so I’m told.
So how does this affect me, an Irish native, when trying to teach?
Firstly, I had to rigorously train myself out of the most notable nuances of the Irish accent such as “One, two, tree”, that one was actually an unexpected revelation as I was convinced my TH’s were in perfect working order. The first time a student remarked “Teacherrrr, it’s THree not tree” I wanted to melt into a pupple on the ground and seep out through some unseen crevice (a la Alex Mack). I refrained from correcting the emphasis on the “errrrr” at the end of his “teacher”. I’m definitely not childish enough to respond like that, or at least I wasn’t that time…
Secondly, I have also been informed by both co-workers and students that when speaking clearly I tend to slip into a bizarre British accent on words with long vowel sounds. I can neither confirm nor deny this, even though I’ve just spent 5 minutes enunciating lines from a book on my bookshelf. Personally, I feel that rather than inflection or intonation, it is the words I use that my coworkers notice. This may or may not be due to watching altogether too much Downton Abbey though.
So even when watching my own P’s and Q’s (and S’s and R’s and TH’s along with the rest of the letters too) I must be mindful of the accent of those I’m teaching. This is one of the greatest challenges of teaching in Korea as students often refuse to believe that I know how to pronounce the words correctly. Sometimes it’s because a Korean teacher in public school has instilled the incorrect pronunciation in school, other times the incorrect pronunciation comes from Konglish (the unholy amalgamation of Korean and English, whereby words are written in Hangul but are essentially loan words). It often comes as a shock to students that “orange” does not end in an “ee” sound, nor do words ending in H.
However, I always find myself thinking, do we really need to eradicate the “Korean-English” accent beyond the abhorrent “ee”, the stressed second syllable, and my pet hate the added “-uh” to the ends of words such as “nice”? Although the goal of many Koreans is to learn to speak like a native, leaving behind the nuances of their own accent, I feel that so long as my students can be clearly and easily understood and speak with a fluency of a native speaker (I can dream), having a Valley Girl accent is not all that important.
Where does this leave my own accent though? I’m not entirely sure, I fear it may become trapped in accent Limbo, wedged somewhere between Irish, British and North American as though I’ve lived in the States and Britain just long enough to pick up a twang but not the entire accent.
So, readers, teachers, friends, how do you feel about your accent or that of those you teach?