Yes, I have an accent.
Learning English is difficult, and even after eight years in this country, I'm constantly learning new words and how to pronounce things.
But throughout the years, I’ve gotten comments about the way I speak. Some are genuine and people compliment me on my English, others correct me when I’m wrong. I appreciate this as I want to learn, but some don’t say it with good intentions.
I can’t understand you. You can’t pronounce this? Wow, that must be a hard word for you.
Every day, I practice new words and appreciate it when people teach me, but when they degrade my years of learning, that’s a different story.
I feel small. I feel like my efforts don't count. After building my confidence to speak up, one comment takes it all back. I can’t get rid of my accent, and for years I hated it because I wanted to just blend in and be able to speak comfortably with others. But that was wrong of me.
Zhenyu Tang, assistant professor of sociology, was born and raised in China. She came to the United States as a graduate student at Purdue University.
Tang is fluent in Chinese, and English is her second language. She also faced language barriers and challenges of her own when she was a graduate student.
“When I started teaching at Purdue, students commented in student evaluations about my English, that it was negative, and it was hard to take in. But I tried to be positive about it and try to practice more,” Tang said.
My accent not only means I speak another language, but it carries my culture. I speak Spanish at home, to all my family and anyone I meet. It is the language of the immigrants who come to this country for better opportunities.
Spanish brings me Día de Los Muertos, food, traditions, all with different meanings behind them. That is something I haven’t found in the states.
While being away from home and finding other Latinx in the U.S., even if we are not from the same country, we bond over Spanish. We treat each other as long-time friends by the single fact that we speak the same language.
“When a society can open up to different cultures and languages, and they...accept differences, instead of forcing people from other races, ethnicities and cultures to be the
same with them, there’s actually more richness to the culture, more richness to society,” Tang said.
I’m learning to love my accent, it represents my roots. So, rather than dismissing me for my accent, praise me for speaking more than one language.