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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