First Collab Post: English Dialects

 

Hello everyone! This is the first collab post I have done! Please welcome Pooja Gudka from Lifesfinewine. Our post is about our experiences with different English dialects. Pooja hails from Kenya and is studying in Canada.

Our Experiences with English Dialects:

Pooja: My mum is from India and my dad is Kenyan and I was born and raised in Kenya but now reside in Canada. I have had the opportunity of hearing many different dialects and I think my dialect changes depending on who I am talking to and which country I am in. Like Winteroseca, I had to adjust to how people talk in Canada and it has been quite interesting to observe their dialect and how it differs from my own. 

 

Winteroseca: My parents are American. I have adjusted to dialects in the US and UK. I am now adjusting to how people talk in Canada. Additionally, when I was living in England, I knew many people from former British colonies and it was interesting to talk about how our dialects differ.

When did you start learning a new dialect?

Pooja: I sounded a lot like my parents when I was younger but as I got older I started reading a lot and watching a lot of American shows as well as listening to American music so I think my dialect changed a lot between 10-18. After that I think it has remained the same and I still sound like I did when I was a teenager- just less teenager-like haha. 

Winteroseca: I was 5 years old. My parents and I had just moved to Texas and I picked up on their way of talking so fast! I thought it was cool. The most significant change was when I moved to London at 10 years old. That was a complete overhaul of the way I talked. 

Did your accent change too?

Pooja: Not particularly. I think it changed when I was about 10 and started to get more into American culture but I think it has remained pretty much the same since then. 

Winteroseca: Yes, and no. When I was in London, there were certain words I had to say a different way or people wouldn’t understand me. I got to a point where my accent would change depending on who I’m talking to and what I’m saying. Third Culture Kids get to a point where they frame-switch between their cultures, and I have done that for a very large portion of my life. Since moving to Canada, I have been reconnecting with a lot of British English while learning how people talk in my new country.

What challenges did you face?

Pooja: I speak four languages fluently and I am currently learning a fifth language and one challenge I face because of this is not having the right words to say in English. Sometimes I will know what I want to say in a different language but I won’t be able to translate it well in English which can be frustrating. Another challenge is that I did a British curriculum at school so I ended up learning words in the traditional/British way and a lot of times I will talk to someone American or even Canadian and be confused about what they mean and then be like “oh wait we call it blah blah blah”

Winteroseca: I had to learn to speak slower and more clearly when I moved to London. There are a lot of immigrants in London. Additionally, the variation between different British accents was huge! Whenever I answered the phone or started talking to someone new, I didn’t know what dialect or accent they would have. I had to learn to adapt my way of speaking to match theirs. Sometimes, the person I was talking to wouldn’t be speaking slowly enough for me to understand, and that would be awkward when I had to ask them to repeat themselves. Typically, the challenge I have is when I need to recall a different way of saying a word. Like, “What do we say in the US instead of trainers?”

Example:

What are some things about learning another way of speaking that surprised you?

Pooja: I think I was surprised by how many people have been through this- I have talked to multiple friends who have immigrated from countries where English isn’t their first language and they share a lot of my frustrations or even just thoughts. It’s actually helped me bond with some people which is nice. 

Winteroseca: One time, I was talking to my grandmother in the US after I had been living in the UK for several years. She commented, “You speak so beautifully!” It had been years since I had initially trained myself to speak more clearly and deliberately. Eventually, I automatically spoke that way around everyone.

When I repatriated to the US, I made a few friends who had recently immigrated to the US. A friend of mine from China said that one of the first things she noticed about me was that I talk slowly and clearly enough and she could understand me. That was one reason she wanted to get to know me better. She heard my UK accent too, but she was most relieved about the fact I could communicate well with people whose English was a second language. Other friends of mine who were immigrants said they really appreciated the fact I spoke in a way they could understand me. And I told them I was happy to explain things they didn’t understand, like slang or if someone was talking to us and they didn’t understand what they were saying.

How do you have fun with different dialects?

Pooja: I think it’s always fun to try something new and learning a new dialect can be a lot of fun! Like Winteroseca, I like to switch between accents/dialects for fun sometimes and it can be nice not to take things so seriously. I think it also opens you up to new experiences, new people and can be a fun way to learn more about the country/area you are currently in. 

Winteroseca: I love comedy that tastefully jokes about language and dialects. Even if I don’t speak a certain language, I can appreciate comedians that can use a language they speak to make humour translate between cultures. I like to make up some jokes of my own. When I was in London, there were so many ways of saying different things in different English dialects that I tried them all. It was rich in different ways of talking. Plus, I kept needing to frame-switch depending on who I was talking to. 

Sometimes, I can get a little sassy with my frame-switching. If someone says something, and I want to politely tease them, I put on a different accent and pretend I don’t understand what they are talking about. What’s the point of speaking in different accents and dialects if you can’t have a little tasteful fun with them?

Example:

What are the annoying things about speaking in a different dialect and/or accent?

Pooja: It annoys me when people judge you based on your dialect or accent. Like, a lot of people will tell me I don’t sound “Kenyan/African/Indian” which is so weird to me because we don’t all have one dialect/accent. People also sometimes assume that if you speak differently you are not as smart/good at English as they are which is something I experienced at university which was a bit frustrating. Sometimes it feels like you have to try to be better than everyone else just so you can get on the same level as them or so that people will take what you are saying seriously. You have to work harder because every mistake you make will be a reflection of your culture/race/nationality instead of just a mistake you made. 

Winteroseca: The thing I really can’t stand is people who won’t talk slowly enough so you can understand them. Either that, or if you ask them to slow down, they talk to you like an idiot. To me, it’s disrespectful to either not slow down, or talk to someone like they’re an idiot because they have an accent. It’s embarrassing enough to ask someone to repeat something anyway. After I repatriated to the US, it was more embarrassing to ask people to repeat what they said. There was more pressure to understand Americans because sometimes, they couldn’t hear my UK accent. Since I have American parents, I felt like I should be familiar with how Americans talk and others thought the same about me as well. People often associate accents with intelligence and that’s absolutely wrong. Sometimes, when people make fun of the way you talk, it can be in bad taste, and I hate that as well.

I also hate how people have stereotypical thinking about certain accents or dialects. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to correct people on their thinking. The good thing is I am not afraid to call people out and some people do listen to me. I hate how other people don’t listen though. My trick for calling out Americans is to say, “Don’t say that. It makes you sound like a Trump supporter!” That works, especially if the people I talk to are not Trump supporters!

After I moved to Canada, I was confused about how to talk or spell for a while. Thanks to influences from both the US and UK, it felt chaotic! Now I know that context and regions are a factor in how people talk.

 

What are your personal tips for adjusting to a new dialect?

Pooja: My main tip would be to dive into their culture. If you are moving to a new place watch their local shows, listen to their music, read their literature, etc. Get a feel of what it’s like and what people there are like so you can assimilate better. It will be a bit hard at first but once you actually mingle with everyone you will be able to adjust over time and you will feel like one of the locals before you know it. 

Winteroseca: The best thing you can do initially is to listen to how people talk. It’s important to not make assumptions either. For instance, you may have been exposed to stereotypical thinking, and you might not know if it’s true. Now is the time to question whether or not something is a stereotype. It is good to do research beforehand of dialects, but even then, it can be incomplete. There’s nothing like getting out in the world and doing things. You will make mistakes while learning to speak in a different way. It can be tough to not be hard on yourself, especially if you aren’t in a supportive environment. But it’s important to remember that you aren’t the only one who has struggled with a new way of talking. It can be helpful to find others to share stories with.