Changing Speech: Are You A Regular American?

The irony is that while one of the reasons that language schools hire native speakers is for their unadulterated accents, one of the first things you learn in any teacher training course is how to grade your language; speak more slowly, enunciate more, use simpler words and avoid idioms if possible. Doing this will have an affect on how you talk all the time, as will communicating with people in general while traveling or living abroad – the experience of being misunderstood or told you are speaking too fast can lead you to just start speaking more slowly all the time.

You will also likely find yourself working with native speakers from other English-speaking countries, or using textbooks that favor vocabulary you may not personally use. I’m American but find myself saying things like “holiday” (instead of vacation), “flat” (instead of apartment), and “sort out” and “get on well with” instead of their more American counterparts.

For me it is more about saying what people expect to hear as learners than trying to pretend I’m British…but I’m sure there are people who see it the latter way. However, I can’t make myself say “jumper”, “biscuits”, or “chips”.

When I returned to the US for two months, a few people who I’d known before (but hadn’t been in touch with while I was away) commented on my “funny accent” and a woman who was from Europe herself asked me if I was from the UK. A Korean student in Chicago asked me if I was a “regular American” because she thought I had an accent.

I’ve also found myself forgetting words randomly: I can recall grasping for “carrots”, “pantry”, “swiveling chair”, “maid”, “explicit” and “pesticides,” among other things. I remember these because the experience of not being able to produce them was so strange.

What’s the reason for this? Most of the native English speakers I have contact with are also teachers, but I have met a few non-teachers who have something similarly funny going on with their speech. It may have more to do with spending a lot of time with non-native speakers than it does with being a teacher. In any case, treasure your vocabulary and native accent…while you still have them!