My mysterious accent

I finally got an objective analysis of my accent.

For the longest time, I haven’t been able to pinpoint my own accent. Before I turned 18, I had a very topical Hong Kong accent because I just didn’t know better. I went to local school in Hong Kong with teachers who couldn’t tell the difference between “sheet” and “shit” or “beach” and “bitch”. My parents don’t know a word of English either. I pretty much just picked up the accent that I have now in college. I tried to mimic what I heard in everyday conversations and had speech therapy in Iowa (I only did that to get rid of my lisp, but they helped me with my accent too) to make myself sound more American, in an effort to assimilate.

When I was in the States, no one ever said I had an American accent. They usually only complimented me on my excellent English. I was already too old to completely change my own accent anyway, but I also don’t sound like a stereotypical Asian you hear on TV. My favorite professor in Iowa once commented, “I don’t ever think about whether you’ve an American or Chinese accent anymore. You just sound ‘Nicky’ to me. This is the way you sound. You’ve your own style of talking!”

In the first few years after I returned to Hong Kong, I got asked if I was from Canada several times by Europeans/British. I don’t even know what a Canadian accent is. From what I know, Canadians sound pretty much the same like the general Americans (excluding Southerns or those with strong regional dialects, of course) except for the use of British words.

I have been back for many years, but I have never stopped trying to perfect my English, particularly after I began teaching English. I try to maintain my Americanism by constantly binge watching American shows and mimicking their speech patterns, so I still have an ear for the accent, but whenever I hear myself talk, I just know I don’t sound exactly like what I hear on TV/podcast, and that really puzzles me.

Over the years, I’ve noticed non Americans usually think I have some sort of an American accent. They would ask if I’ve spent a substantial period of time in the States, but real Americans tend not to think I’m one of them. Today, I had my farewell dinner with my former lecturer, who is an American expat, and I jokingly asked if the Kiwis would think I’ve a funny accent. He said they would think I sound American, but I told him I don’t think I sound exactly like him.

He then points out I have an “international schoolish American accent” because I over articulate. I need to “mumble more” to sound American.

Ha, that’s what it is. I went to a cheap, shitty local school, and now I sound like a spoil brat with loaded parents. Who would have thought of that?


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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