An Accidental Accent

When G was a child he attended an American School in the Philippines, and for a brief time he became the owner of an American accent. In those days, holidays in Australia were often spent with cousins who lived on properties in rural Queensland. G is now lucky to see those cousins once a year, but when he does, a familiar story arises. It’s a rendition of the visit where G excitedly joined everyone inside the house and announced in his American drawl “wave ban outside hont’n bears”.

It was an unsuccessful hunt, there were no bears to be found in northern Queensland that day.

In a twist of history repeating itself, one of our little travellers has a particularly strong American accent. The girls and the youngest traveller seem to be able to adjust their accent to fit with the group, whereas the third little traveller appears to come from somewhere between California, Texas and the Disney channel.

Often his accent doesn’t match his passions. His Australian football cards sit by his bed, he sings Paul Kelly songs while having a bath, and talks about “home” in Australia. I’ve watched onlookers in playgrounds while they’ve tried to work out the relationship between my Australian husband and I and our American child.

My parents often joke about our children arriving home from their British School in Libya and politely asking Granny in a very English accent for “sweeties”. Twelve months later, after a move to Canada they wanted “candy”. Children don’t care, as long as they get confectionary of some sort you can call it whatever you want.

An Australian girlfriend posted a clip of her daughter reading a book last night. After moving from South Africa to the US only six months ago, her daughter has now lost all remnants of her South African accent. She now sounds very much like a girl from the south. Listening to her read was a thing of beauty, her adaptability shone through. Plonk me anywhere and just watch me shine.

Children are much better at moving on than adults. They jump in to situations and quickly assess how to adapt. I think it’s one of those qualities we lose as adults. Like when we stop doing random handstands on the grass outside. One day we suddenly become that little bit more self conscious, Β the trampoline gets packed away and the basketball hoop comes down, we discontinue that random cartwheel on the way to the lunch.

I had never heard of Foreign Accent Syndrome until today. And I’ll confess when I first saw this clip I may have laughed out loud. The idea of waking up with a completely different accent kind of floats my boat.

I loved the quote from her husband, if we could all see the world this way it would feel a lot smaller.
“She still is her old self, except her voice has changed”

It doesn’t matter how we speak – it’s what we say that counts.

So tell me. You wake up tomorrow with a new accent, what’s it going to be? What would you choose? I’m going with French.

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  1. Wow, I’d never heard of foreign accent syndrome, and if you had posted this on April 1, I wouldn’t have believed the joke! Sounds hard to believe but fascinating no less. Love the stories about the kids’ morphing accents. Glad I discovered your blog! All the best!

  2. A friend of mine mimic’s accents, and so everytime I see her she goes home with a New Zealand accent and her boyfriend gets really annoyed with me. Whenever I see him he tells me that if I only spend an hour with her she doesn’t lose the accent for days.

    • I completely understand your friend. My girlfriend in Canada told me that her husband could immediately spot if she’d spent time with me by the way she spoke that night. I became Sri Lankan one Christmas after a new doctor arrived in town and I hung out with his daughters. Too funny.

  3. I had actually seen that report when it was first broadcast.

    I like to tease my daughter who, while she still has a quite noticeable Brooklyn accent, after 13 year of living in Florida has also developed very obvious signs of Florida creeping into it. That process has accelerated since marrying a native Floridian.

    When I was in high school, I attended a weeklong program in Washington, DC. My roommates were from Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas. I have a habit of being somewhat of a chameleon when it comes to accents, and when I came home after a week of the program – everyone thought I sounded very strange indeed. LOL!

    • When I am with my Austrian friend, I speak with that accent. When I am with my Italian friend, I tend to mimic the intonation as well. Like a parrot, I adapt quite well, but I didn’t realize that others have the same experiences. I don’t notice these things: my husband does. LOL!

  4. I’ve always been SO jealous of anyone with an accent. I was born & raised in Washington state, U.S., pretty much the only place in the whole world that doesn’t seem to form an accent when speaking English. πŸ™ Boring.

  5. I am happy with my Canadian accent (some would say Canadian prairie accent) but whne I spend time in the UK with my British in-laws I start to have a Bit of a British accent. I think I would like a Spanish accent now!

  6. I lost my Irish accent when my family emigrated to England. Now that I live in Canada people assume I’m British. My eldest has developed a great Canadian accent but personally, just for the record, I’d like a South African one πŸ™‚ Might book a dentists appointment and see what happens…

  7. My children alternate between delight and horror as I hurl out different accents. Theirs are “posh aussie” as a result of school in Adelaide and an English mummy. But I can flick flack between a Yorkshire accent to an Italian one back to Lancashire, then to Russian, in a heartbeat. My “real” accent is South Coast England. But I love me a Lancashire accent. (Think “Little Princess”.)

  8. We live in Bosnia and have a totally British little dude in our school who speaks very much with an American accent, apparently because he attended American school for a few years. His brothers, though, are completely not impacted by the same experience. Very interesting that this has a name now!

  9. My 9 year old daughter has an American/British/Australian accent depending on where she is in the world. My son who is 11 still sounds very British – he went to a posh London day school for his first 2 years of school. He has never really changed. I was in Australia last week visiting family and by day 4, when I called my husband back in the States, he was saying “Please lose the strong Aussie accent before you come home”! He hates the missing t – like in the pronunciation of compuder and wader …

  10. Thats my six year old – she started off with a Filipino accent from her first two years of life in Hong Kong, that quickly morphed into a very posh English / South African one from our stay in Durban and now she is just as Southern as they come with twangs and multi syllable words such as chay-aire and stay-airs, nine months into our adventure in Hotlanta. Who knows what, where and when is next…. Our 10 year old has a definite ‘International accent’ – with minor modifications around rolling his ‘r’s’ for the current situation – he was a baby when we moved to HK and six when we moved to SA.

  11. Growing up all over the world we always had an accent of some kind. To my English & American friends I sounded Australian, yet to my Aussie pals I’d brought home a strong Yankee accent. Now I guess I’m fairly Aussie again except when I drink, the American accent comes out in me! Weird

  12. I have a Canadian mother, an American father from Boston, and I spoke fluent Thai(learned from my Thai Amah) before starting school at a British kindergarten in Thailand. My mother loves to tell the story of how I’d come home and play ‘school’ by myself with my dolls. When the ‘teacher’ doll spoke, she’d speak with a British accent. When the ‘pupil’ dolls spoke, it was with an American accent. I’ve spoken and taught German as a second language for many years, and people cannot tell from my accent that I’m not German – I wonder if it’s the early exposure to all of those different linguistic sounds at such a young age?

  13. Not international accents, but I was brought up in Surrey and then moved at the age of 8 to Cambridge. On my first day in the playground a little girl asked me ‘what sort of accent do you have?’, to which I replied, in beautiful cut glass Surrey tones ‘I have a neutral accent’.. rather a few edges got knocked off in the next few years!

  14. I learnt English in the British School of Brussels, I spoke “English English”. When I say “Spoke”, the “o” is quite long.I wrote “colour” as “colour”

    After watching so many American Movies and TV Shows, and working with Americans, My English shifted away and became Americanized. I currently write “color”, and I use a “zee” instead of s … I realize, and I don’t realise…

    After a few years of doing it, I noticed that my English slants a little towards how whoever I speak to speaks… It goes American with Americans, Canadians, Filipinos… and becomes more British with Brits, Irish, Indians, …

    It’s quite confusing.

  15. While I’ve vacationed in a few countries I’ve never lived anywhere but the USA. But, the US is huge so when I moved from Illinois to Minnesota I was told I had a southern accent. Now I pick up intonations easily so I’m always concerned people will think I’m mimicking them to be funny. I’m not, honestly.

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