Losing an accent could be a good thing for newcomers: Bhatt

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loudspeaker-300x263Ava Homa is a Canadian writer from Iran (of Kurdish origin). A couple of years ago, her collection of short stories Echoes from Other Lands was published in Canada. Speaking at the book’s launch, she said, “There’s no accent when you write.” It’s an observation that has stayed with me.

Most of us who aren’t native speakers of English have an accent, and she was articulating what most newcomers to Canada experience — being judged unfairly because of an accent.

In the case of Canadians of Indian origin, we compound the problem of accent by speaking the way we write — in long-winded sentences and in rigid and formal tone. Imagine — using so many unnecessary words in a strange accent. It’s a sure-fire way to be misunderstood.

Accent is a strange thing. It gives variety to a language, an identity to a person, adds spice to a conversation. Accent is diversity and multiculturalism personified. But make no mistake: it’s not desirable. Those who have it would prefer to lose it. Those who don’t can’t understand the misery that those who have it experience. It’s a barrier to communication. Even the most educated and articulate person will find it hard to communicate if he or she has a pronounced accent.

A few years ago, when we were new here, we had gone to our son’s school to meet his teachers. While chatting with one of his teachers, I spoke about how easily Che had adapted to his new environment and said, “He has started speaking with a Canadian accent.” The teacher immediately corrected me: “You mean he’s losing his accent.”

Of course, with the passage of time, as we learn to talk the way Canadians do, we will also lose the accent. It’s an indiscernible process and one doesn’t realize when the transition from strange accent to no accent occurs.

I’ve often wondered why we don’t have free coaching available in Canada to newcomers to neutralize our accent. Many of us don’t need the free Language Instructions for Newcomers (LINC) that the federal government offers, but nearly all of us need to neutralize our accents.

In many parts of the world, call centres employ accent coaches to train employees to not only lose their accent, but even talk the way the natives do. We should try that in Canada. I’m sure, it’ll add to the employability factor of newcomers.

It’ll also help so many of us be less self-conscious.

Mayank Bhatt, an internationally trained journalist from India, writes about his everyday experiences as an immigrant in this column.

-Canadian Immigrant

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