Asian, Westerners Accents & Language Barriers

By Maricris

Imagine talking to someone and everything sounds like gibberish, yet the person talking to you is also speaking in English.

Doesn’t that frustrate you sometimes? I’m sure it does and the culprit is mostly our accents and how we pronounce our words.

Surprisingly, this is not solely isolated in the US. Take the Philippines, which has 180 spoken languages with varied tonal and regional accents. If there were two people in a room are from different regions and are chatting with each other and both speak Tagalog — the official language of the country — I can guarantee you that there will be a big chance they won’t understand each other. The way words are spoken and pronounced are always the key ingredient to better communication. You just have to speak the lingo!

Similarly, US seem to have the same issue. They have regional and tonal accents depending on what side of the country they’re from. This variety also poses as a hurdle and makes it harder for most Asians to adapt while already struggling to lose their native tongues to achieve speech discernability.

According to Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, initial exposure to foreign and regional accents can trigger a delay in word identification, but that repeated exposure results in better comprehensibility. I can personally attest to this; six straight years of speaking mainly English on a daily basis has proved beneficial. The immersion and exposure made it easier for me to communicate without uttering the annoying “say that again” or the “what did you just say?” most times.

Strangely though, a lot of people tell me that now I sound and talk differently, like I was born here and have always spoken the language. Immersion would do that to you, but it’s not perfect — there are certain words that I still mispronounce. And no matter what my Mom says after she overhears me speaking to someone in straight, nonstop barrage of English that I’m “Americanized”, it will not change the fact that I’m Asian and I will occasionally blunder the pronouns her and his! Who else have this problem? It is annoying even to me.

ABOUT MARICRIS: Maricris shares her journeys in life through her personal blog ZenVentures, her views on being Asian in Toasty Brown, her insight as a working mother in Working Mother Magazine, and who’s creative side can be found at Golden Flower Creations.

(Flickr photo credit: timothy b. buckwalter)

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