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Americanizing My British Accent: An Identity Crisis

"You actually say 'maths' instead of 'math'?"

Colour. *Color.

"So... I hope you don't mind if I ask you a personal question. Did you live in the U.K. earlier? No? Australia? No? Then where does the British accent come from?"

Realise. *Realize.

"Is this in real life?"

Favourite. *Favorite.


Classmates, professors, and strangers alike have been asking me similar questions. Since this phenomenon has continued for years, I would readily give out the frequently-repeated set of response, that one of the ways I learnt English as a Chinese schoolgirl was by watching films like "Harry Potter" and "Pride and Prejudice", and by reading Shakespearean plays.

"As a child", I would tell them, "I would watch those films over and over, even after I could memorise most of the lines. I simply enjoyed doing it." I do not tend to mention how I adore the elegance and clarity of the sounds, fearing to offend my American audience. I hope that you do not find this offensive in any way as you are reading this. Actually, I am increasingly finding American accent equally beautiful...

However, as time elapses, I saw the necessity of backfiring a question at the enquirers. "But I have been Americanizing my accent. Am I failing it?" Obviously. Gazing at me with a mixed feeling of pity and disbelief, my new acquaintances would gently nod. They could still readily detect the Britishness under a thin coat of faked American accent at the mere utterance of two or three words.

Frankly, I have been quite puzzled at my own attempt to Americanize my accent. And my spelling. I am used to adamantly spelling "memorize" as "memorise", and ignoring my laptop's dotted red or blue lines as it loyally auto-checks my spelling, despite my repeated efforts to change my setting to "British".

As first-year students at universities in America, we all try to blend in our new academic and social environments. The task is more challenging for us international students who may experience cultural shocks no matter how Americanized our lives have been prior to our arrival in the United States. Having attended an international high school in Beijing where American accent was dominant, I felt that my accent had always stood out whenever I opened my mouth to speak in class, and during conversations with my friends. The awareness that people felt that I am different triggered a sense of discomfort at times. The realisation propelled me to change.

As a self-identified Anglophile, I have considered the British accent as an integral aspect that has always defined me ever since I started learning English as a second language in elementary school.

From modern business practices, we see how brands evolve, change and develop, sometimes achieving greater success and wider consumer base or brand loyalty, whilst sometimes getting lost due to a loss of the businesses' core principles or ideologies, such as corporate culture. Brand images may alter due to social, cultural, political, economics, technological or environmental factors.

This analogy from the intangible field of Business and Management seems to parallel my personal situation to a great extent. My British accent has become part of my personal brand image as I started gaining fluency in the language. As I realized social and psychological factors that propelled me to grow and evolve, I tried adding another accent, the standard American accent, to my existing language base, but not necessarily succeeded (euphemism here, perhaps). Admittedly, I despise my current accent: a peculiar blend of American and British accents that would automatically raise a few more eyebrows then my more British accent did in the past. It is truly frustrating that I could hardly transition back to my former accent, nor smoothly acquire a perfectly American accent.