Monday, February 28, 2011

Tweak the tongue: Expats, accents, and adjustments

Filipino expats stand out whether we like it or not. We don't look like the general population, unless we seek sanctuary in Little Manila, Chinatown or some such cultural enclaves. We don't sound "normal" to the ears, normal being defined as whatever the natives are used to hearing.

It takes some effort to twang the Filipino accent enough to be understood and deemed acceptable in the U.S. Some of us who arrived here as children make the transition more naturally, although not without some initial taunting from playmates. Some of us slip back into short 'a's when we let our guard down. Some, particularly in our parents' generation, never quite make the transition.

For the first six months or so after my arrival in 1985, I resisted twanging like the natives. It just struck me as pretentious, and I resented having to change who I was just to fit in. What was this, junior high? Eventually I gave in. I got tired of being quizzed on where I was from and being asked to repeat myself. Life seemed simpler if I could have a regular conversation that focused on what, not how I said things.

I don't know the young man in the following video, but it captures in a humorous way what we expats experience when we transplant or get transplanted abroad. He's from Canada. Apart from the late Peter Jennings' classic way of pronouncing "about" as "aboot," I can't tell a Canadian and an American apart.

If the video doesn't play, here's the link: The Filipino accent

Have you had to change something about yourself to fit into your environment?


  1. You're ready for a Barrio Fiesta with us Pinoys, Connie!

  2. Adjusted the accent enough to be understood by most canadians. Some people have the ear for it though. A fellow technician asked if I was Filipino. I asked how could he tell ? Turned out he was a filipino who arrived in Canada when he was 9 years old. He has no accent whatsover. I will have to accept that my tongue will never twist the same as a native canadian speaker.

    BTW, you are right Scrollwork, Canadians speak the same way as the Americans. 90% of canadians live very close to the American border (me included) and when we mix, you dont know which one is the American or Canadian. Love this post !

  3. Hiya, nighthawk, I've missed your comments lately, welcome back! You wanna know something? As an expat, I actually once thought, "Well if Canadians and Americans look and sound alike, what's the point of having separate countries?" Yup. Goes to show it goes both ways: my husband has a joke he pulls out when he wants to rile me. He says, "You all look alike. I can't tell between a Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian..."

  4. I'm originally from Sri Lanka, but born in England, and had a similar problem growing up! I spoke a mixture of English and Sinhala (Sri lankan language)and got laughed at by mean little kids! So I can definitely relate, but now I get teased for being "too" English, you just can't please some people!

  5. Those mean little kids grew up deprived of knowing more than one language, neener-neener to them!

    And isn't it the absolute truth, there's no pleasing some people (I've had to work for people like that; the pox on them!)

    When I recently met up on Facebook with some old college classmates, one of them announced we should only comment in Tagalog. Easy for them; they grew up speaking it at home. We spoke only English at home and my parents spoke a dialect called Bicolano to each other. So, no, I was never fluent in Tagalog, and it's gotten worse after living more than half my life in the U.S. with nobody to talk to in Tagalog. But I caught flak for pleading my case. The implication was that I was trying to be "too American" and turning my back on my roots. *shakes head Whatever!

  6. Yeah, I've forgotten all the sinhala I used to know! I keep meaning to learn it again as it's the language my parents speak at home, and sometimes it can be frustrating not knowing what they're talking about!