A Foreigner at Home: When Your Accent Works Against You

Growing up in the American south, I was always acutely aware of accents. I can remember clearly my mother scolding me for adding extra syllables to words, an unmistakable twang that betrayed me as an Alabama girl. “The word is ‘bat’!” she would say. “Not ‘bah-yat’!”

I went to an expensive prep school, well known in part because of the eloquent, well-spoken young men and women it produces. I knew from a young age that the way I spoke sounded more like the people on CNN than the people down my street. I wore this as a badge of honor.

When I decided to come to England for university, it seemed like my accent would only prove to be an advantage. I assumed, somewhat correctly, that an American accent here has the same effect as a British one in the US. I assumed, completely falsely, that everyone in my university would be intelligent, well-spoken, and sound like a BBC News presenter. What I found, instead, that I was hit with a tidal wave of accents that I was in no way prepared to face, much less interpret. I had grown up with two accents: well-spoken and country. How, I asked myself, could there be so many accents in a country so small that it would fit easily inside Texas (with room to spare)? I was flooded with accents that somehow, were all British, and were all distinctly different from my own American-speak.

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People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore

The Baltimore riots have caused a lot of controversy in the media in the last few days over how they should be covered. The President has been alternatively criticized for his characterization of the people in the riots as ‘criminals and thugs’, and praised for his sympathy towards poor black Americans. Most people now seem to agree on and understand that the people are rioting because of institutionalized poverty and systematic racism, and it is good that these things are finally being addressed in the mainstream conversation. However, the size, scale, and violence of the riots seems to have people scared and confused. There seems to be a disconnect between understanding the causes and understanding the emotions of the black Americans who are actually living this reality.

Continue reading People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore