Thoughts on image and accentsJune 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments
I always find it interesting that one’s perception of apperance often overrides their ability to distinguish things aurally. Back when I was working as an RA, I had a Vietnamese resident who was born and raised in Germany. He didn’t speak any Vietnamese, and had a heavy German accent when he spoke English. But for several months, everyone on our floor assumed that his accent was Vietnamese. Once they realized he was from Germany, people noted that it was almost as if someone flipped a switch in their brains and the accent suddently turned into a very obviously German one. Likewise, when I was in Korea, a lot of the people there had a hard time believing that the Asian-Americans who came to do missionary work there could actually speak English without an accent.
On occasion I’ll get a comment on my youtube videos from a non-Japanese speaking person (or perhaps a non-Japanese person who watches a lot of anime and likes to say they “speak” Japanese because they studied it for a few semesters in college) concerning my “accent.” It’s funny to me because I don’t have an accent when I speak or sing in Japanese since I grew up speaking it. At this point I usually direct them to my last name and point out the fact that I am Japanese. An even more baffling thing is the fact that on occasion I will get a comment about my “accent” when speaking English, despite the fact that I grew up speaking this language as well. When people perceive me as Caucasian, they have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that I can speak Japanese without an accent, and likewise, when people perceive me as being Japanese, they have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that I have no accent when speaking English either.
Growing up as a “hapa” (in my case, half-Japanese and half-European descent) I often struggled with identity since people seemed to have such widely varied opinions about my race. On the upside, I’ve found that my own personal experiences have helped me to be more open-minded and able to relate to wider groups of people. I’ve also come to understand that as humans we are such visual beings that we almost can’t help our intial perceptions. However, I still consider it rather foolish to condescendingly tell someone “your accent could be better” if you don’t even know enough about the language to be able to distinguish a native speaker from a non-native one 😛