Do you think she is rude and racist?

Karen   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 12:30 GMT
I have mentioned a few times here that I am learning American accent. I posted a question on a site and got a reply from a professional linguist. I think she is very rude, what do you think?

Original message:

First of all, let's get this right. This is not 'accent reduction' but accent change. Everyone has an accent. You have Hong Kong accents, and you want an American accent.

As we have said in other answers it is possible to change accent at any age, with

(a) a real desire to stop sounding as if you come from Hong Kong and start sounding as if you come from ?Wyoming ?New York?Tennessee;

(b) plenty of exposure to people who have the accent you want, preferably socially (choose your friends with care? Could too many of yr friend be from Hong Kong???)

(c) lots of hard work and practice.

And why? A Hong Kong accent is nothing to be ashamed of. Are you ashamed of being from Hong Kong? How much effort is it worth? Could you be spending the time and money better (learn a musical instrument, learn German, do pottery, spend more time in the gym, have an expensive holiday...)?

Do you want to choose your friends by the desirability of their accents?

So yes, it can be done, if you work at it. But as to whether it is worthwhile -- that's for you to judge I suppose!

Washington State University is a reputable institution, but I very much disagree with the whole basis of their website on the course your husband did. There are plastic surgeons who will operate on people to give them 'Caucasian' eyes or mouths -- the pressure on people to change an accent is no better than the pressure to persuade them to look white.
Antonio   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 12:47 GMT
No. She just tells you that the price to pay in order to change your accent may be too high and pointless. But there are people willing to pay that price, so there are people willing to show how to do so too.
Simon   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 13:04 GMT
Do you think Denise van Outen would have been successful at all in the UK if she spoke with a Dutch accent? Ulrika Jonsson too (Swedish).

I think the woman mentioned above meant well but she overlooked something. There are native accents and there is not speaking the language perfectly as a native speaker.

If I understand Hong Kong's situation, it is an ESL area. Therefore, Hong Kong English is the English of people whose mother tongue is Chinese (Cantonese).

Karen, you presumably just want to access the (American) English-speaking world without making the statement "I am a foreigner and English is not my first language".

It's nice to remind people that we are all born equal etc. but people's concerns are normally based on the realities of their lives and the world we live in and not on some utopic notion of equality, no matter how well-intentioned.
Simon   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 13:07 GMT
Actually, on reflection I think the woman was being paternalistic. Karen decided what she wanted to do. She asked help for it. The woman who replied, rather than giving the technical advice Karen was looking for, gave her a lecture.
Fly   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 15:40 GMT
Karen, is that professional lady from this site? Or somewhere else?

I guess it's not something shameful at all for someone to try to speak the language in its way. I mean, there is no point to keep the Hong Kong accent when you speak english. Would you mind telling me if you are living in Hong Kong now, or somewhere else? Do you have access to any American accent source?
That woman's behavior...   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 16:11 GMT
Simon has perfectly expressed what is also my opinion. The professional(?) linguist's job is not trying to force someone into thinking her way.
She considers equality as fundamental, but betrays equality by denying to somebody the right to think one's own way, precisely in order to convince the person that equality is important. Paradox!
Jay   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 21:20 GMT
Linguists can be a little patronizing. Looks like they've swung so far away from the "prescriptivist" that they've come full circle back to it.
Sima   Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 23:30 GMT
Please don't take it amiss but if you aren't a teen-ager anymore, it's quite hard to lose your accent when you speak English, even if you live in an English speaking country. I tell you by my own experience and some of my friends who went to the USA at different ages. The more younger they were, the better they caught the accent. Personally, I think there's no use to imitate an accent if we have not really learn it.
Good luck with your accent redaction courses.
Jim   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 02:52 GMT
Well, I'd have to agree with Simon. Karen was looking for advice. The woman gave some advice in her points (a), (b) & (c) but there was a lecture that came along with this advice. Karen hadn't been looking for a lecture but I wouldn't call the woman rude or racist.

The woman was just expressing her views on the idea of "accent reduction" ... or as she more aptly put it accent change. Karen may not have been looking for these views but, hey, when you post something on the web there's no telling what response you'll be getting.

If a particular response is of no use to you, you could ignore it if you like but there's nothing wrong with doing what Karen did and bringing it into question either. By bringing it into question Karen has been able to get some more balance to the points the woman raised.

I agree with the woman that "A Hong Kong accent is nothing to be ashamed of." I'd even add that speaking with an accent that is not your own is nothing to be proud of either. However, as Simon points out, there is more to it than shame and pride.

She explains that the price you pay to change your accent is high and asks if that's a price you're willing to pay. She asks if there isn't something more worthwhile that you could spend your time, money and effort on. I think that she has a point. Is it worth it?

If it's important to you that you be able to "access the (American) English-speaking world without making the statement 'I am a foreigner and English is not my first language'.", as Simon would put it, then maybe it is worth doing an accent change course.

However, don't fool yourself into believing that it is an accent reduction course. The woman was absolutely right when she wrote "Everyone has an accent. You have Hong Kong accents, and you want an American accent." You'll be changing your accent neither reducing it nor improving it.

Alas, the world we live in is no utopia there are plastic surgeons who make people look white. The world would be a better place without this. It would be nice if society accepted people the way they are without discrimination against those who look or speak differently.

On one hand the so-called "accent reduction" schools are helping to perpetuate this sorry state of affairs but on the other hand can you blame them? In non-utopia people have desires created by the unfairness of the world. The accent change schools are satisfying that desire. The blame is on society not the student who feels the need to change his/her accent.
wingyellow   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 03:10 GMT

As a fellow Hong Konger who also wants to lose, or reduce, the notorious Cantonese accent, I partly agree with that lady. And no, she is not rude or racist at all.

First, we can only speak like an American, but not as if we were born and grew up there. Some of our vocal organs are already developed, not as elastic as when we were young.

Second, except for being praised once in a while and feeling cool afterward, a native accent will not do you any good. Will it help you find a better job? No, I don't think so. There are just too many native speakers of English. Like us, they can speak more than one language.

Third, I believe that you do not see movies in English on a regular basis. I spend one hour doing this every night.

Finally, I totally agree with the lady. Learning a new language will be better. I started to pick up my Japanese again lately, because I happened to buy some Japanese dramas with Japanese subtitles. By learning Japanese, I can communicate with 10m of people who don't speak English.
David Bosch   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 03:27 GMT

I really don't think you've got to pay a huge price if you wanna learn American accent. Less even choose your friends, it may help, but I wouldn't 'choose' my friends to speed up my learning.

For the past two years, I've achieved what I call an almost perfect northern London accent, I certainly did not have to pay a price, only a couple of books and perhaps a tape for recording british speech.

She was not rude, well, it was not very nice of her to ask whether you were ashamed of your accent, I mean, that does not concern her, does it? besides, she mentions that it would be better to go to the gym, to do pottery, and I say that learning an accent does not take huge time, in fact, you can do your normal activities while practicing american; for instance, when you watch TV, watch american TV, when you read, read american books, when you are in the internet, listen to an american radio station by real player.

Good luck with your American accent
Lou   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 13:17 GMT
Actually, I feel that one or other accent is not important. For me it's important to be able to understand what a person is saying, which means, clear, intelligible speech. If a person's mother tongue has radically different sounds to those of English, I find that trying to work on a sound that an English-speaker or -learner will easily understand is more important than sounding as if one comes from any one country or region.
wingyellow   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 13:35 GMT
I personally have not seen any westerners who managed to lose the European accents while speaking Cantonese. I think it works the same way the other way around.

The most pitiful human beings in the world are called ABC, aka American Born Chinese. They speak in exactly American accent, but they look exactly oriental. So they cannot get along well in both societies. Discrimination against skin colors has nothing to do with accent.

Speaking English is important. But a perfect accent will not be as rewarding as you want. Tom, the webmaster, is white. If he moved to the United States, after one generation or two, no one can tell his offsprings' origin. But oriental people are different.
Fly   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 14:38 GMT
Wingyellow, don't you think you are a bit radical about your ABC comment? I personally think that ABC actually have advantages of being both chinese and american ( it's possible because we all agree that chinese is a race while american is a nationality). They can completely merge into the american society, not solely because of their american accent, but their american ways of thinking and acting. Yet, they still have a trace of chinese blood flowing inside them, bearing all the spiritual strength that they may have. And, if they know some cantonese or chinese from their parents, I don't see why they can't fit in the chinese society. As a matter of fact, ABC tend to be the more brilliant /successful group in prestigious universities and major firms.
Ben   Wednesday, October 01, 2003, 15:12 GMT
I think you're over-reacting a bit - all she was trying to say, I think, was not to worry too much about the way that you speak English. Content - *what* you say (in terms of grammatical correctness, versitility of vocabulary etc.) - is much more important than how you say it. Someone who speaks English with a Hong Kong accent is no better or worse off than someone who speaks with a Norfolk accent. Accent is really not that important, and you should concentrate on content rather than style.