Englishisms

Once upon a long ago I taught a diverse bunch of chaps and chapettes in Mexico City how to speak English. Real English. British English. Olde Worlde English. The original. Oh, those were the days. Am I playing on my particular version of English? Well, there is a point to that. There are plenty of English teachers in the US. Mostly from the United States. A few from Canada. Not so many from the UK.  It was my selling point. One of them, anyway.

Rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly as it happens), Mexicans have a favourable view of British English. For a whole load of reasons. Yet, ironically, none of the Mexicans I ever met understood a word I’d say for the first few weeks. I can’t say with 100% certainty that they understood much of what I said after a few years! My accent perhaps sounded exotic. But I’m told it also sounded a bit Double Dutch.

Some of my students would mock my pronunciation. In, so I always assumed,  an affectionate manner. They’d exaggerate the invisible R’s that us Brits surreptitiously insert into random words. Carn’t. Warter. But I think they were secretly envious of my accent. Maybe. I should have asked. But then, their envy would have ceased to be a secret. I did have one chap who wanted me to teach him how to ‘speak British’.

Which raised the obvious question. What sort of British? This sort of British? I did once turn it on to BBC Alba and watch it intently until Mrs P felt compelled to say something. She wasn’t fooled. Well, not for long anyway. But I digress. Back to speaking English. The accent in particular, rather than slowly dying ancient tongues that were once spoken widely in parts of this land.

Accents are hard, bordering on the impossible, to learn and successfully replicate. There are a million examples of linguistic travesties in the movies, but one can see why Dick Van Dykes casting in Mary Poppins caused PL Travers to shudder. Although Renee Zelwegger did show that it can be done. Bravo to her. There are, of course, many types of British English. Do you want to learn Glaswegian? Cornish? Cockney? Welsh? Geordie? Brummie? BBC English?

I’ll offer my tuppence worth of advice. Don’t bother. Invariably, the result – regardless of the particular accent you are trying to mimic – will be Fake British. It’ll sound odd. Weird at best. Laughable at worst. If you absolutely must mimic the accent of one part of the UK, then I suggest Welsh. As the video explains, the Welsh accent has certain…shall we say, qualities? If you sound like you’ve had a drink too many, then at least you have an excuse for your abomination of an effort.

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8 comments

  1. …and not just the Mexicans! Now I’m teaching online, I have around 600 colleagues, mostly Americans, and whenever we’re in a webinar I get many comments in the chatbox – “Love the accent”.
    Interesting what you say about the variety of accents. Mine is far from being RP, but not outwardly from any particular region either. When I was teaching in companies, a student once said to me:

    “We asked for a British teacher!”
    “What am I then?”
    “I’m not sure, you sound like a mixture of British, American and Mexican!”

    1. It could be worse. I was accused of being German on a few occasions. Lord only knows why.

      My accent hasn’t ever been mistaken for being anything other than British. I guess it could be described as being unmistakeably British from a Mexican perspective. But I’m probably not the best judge of that.

      It’s funny. When I first went to Mexico, more than one US teacher told me I’d struggle on account of my nationality/accent. Based on their presumption that Mexicans want to focus on American English, as that’s where their business will be. I found the truth to be pretty much the opposite. As I mentioned above, it was one of my selling points.

  2. Spanish is the same way, Linda studied Spanish in a number of places and learned her skills at the knee of many different nationals. She gets pegged with being Argentine, Mexican (from Mexicans but always accusing her of being from where they are not from) Cuban, Spain, it goes on. We enjoy the diversity of language.

    I’m from Ohio, my Wisconsin cousins always claimed I had a southern accent-I was born about three blocks from Lake Erie. The ear is a funny thing.

    And: I saw the same language story link over on Beach’s history blog today. Do you follow him?

    1. It’s a shame that so many people seem to get hung up on the idea of different languages existing in close proximity to each other, I’m thinking of southern and western US of course. Picking up an extra tongue or two is good. Language isn’t a disease.

      I don;t follow, or know of, his blog. Perhaps I should. Where’s he/she at?

      1. Beach is an Englishman living/teaching in Italy. his blog is called Beachcombing’s Bizarre History blog. He has a facebook page. Big brain kind of guy if you know what I mean.

  3. My son-in-law is from England. My daughter translates, at times, many times… :) But, we always have a good laugh in letting each other know who is the one with the accent… if he is reading this, he knows it’s him.

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