Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Have an Accent (And So Do You)

I wish I could say that in this post I will discuss my accent in American English. If you have been following my blog, you should realize by now that while I may write the majority of my posts here in English. . .my mind is always fixed on other languages. Like Spanish, Portuguese and most recently Arabic.


Jacksonville University - Where my biggest successes and biggest struggles took place.

So, what accent could I possibly be talking about? Glad you asked. My accent while speaking Spanish to be exact! I used to think every other American around me, who I know speaks Spanish, has a very noticeable accent. You know the blatantly obvious "Hi, I'm an American!" accent. No offense if you happen to have this particular accent. What matters is that you're trying to speak in another language -whether it's Spanish or not - and that's cool! (But, the next time you talk to me, ask me to do my impression of that accent. I'm surprisingly very good at imitating it--and blowing it out of proportion--haha.)

Over the course of studying Spanish for nearly 10 years, I have experienced my fair share of ups and downs with the language. Well, there have mostly been "ups" but that's besides the point. I've been very blessed to have had the immersion type experiences I have had with Spanish. I've had exposure to it as a child and throughout middle school. I studied it in high school and I also went on two long mission trips to Mexico before the age of 19. I studied it all throughout college, made friends with native speakers, listened to literally hundreds of hours of Latin/Caribbean/Spanish music, watched movies, read and listened to the news or TV and had the fantastic opportunity of studying in Spain at age 21 where I spoke and heard Spanish everyday for 4 months. You would think I developed a more "native" accent after all of these years of studying, listening, speaking, reading and writing Spanish. Yes and no. They say that you are your toughest critic and I would have to agree. Even when it comes to one of the most important things in my life, the Spanish language (and languages in general).

In the last year, I have still gotten compliments on my spoken Spanish and at certain restaurants the servers can tell almost right away that my accent sounds closest to Spain Spanish. (I'm not complaining there ;) One compliment that has stuck out to me in particular was this one: "Tienes acento pero no se nota." [You have an accent but it's not noticeable.] I mulled this comment over in my head for most of the summer. For almost all of my college years, my professors complimented me on my pronunciation in Spanish and practically raved over it. This started from day one in a particular professor's class and I felt very honored to receive that compliment. I still feel honored.

However, the lady who told me that I did have an accent wasn't wrong. I never got into the habit of recording myself when speaking or reading Spanish but I sometimes read parts of articles or books out loud. I hadn't done that consistently in years and decided to pick up an old book I had last summer. As I read a couple pages out loud, I didn't notice much difference in my accent. (Note: I also must be biased of course.) It wasn't until I decided one day to record my voice as I read a short paragraph out loud.

For the first time in my experience with Spanish, I realized that I could hear my American accent quite strongly to my ears while speaking it. I knew that I didn't have a perfect accent in Spanish but I thought I was close. You know the "near native" type of close? It didn't throw me for a huge loop but I couldn't get that discovery out of my mind.

The closest thing I can relate this realization to is the sound of a breaking mirror. For the longest time, regardless of the length of that time period, you believe you are one thing and then one day you see yourself or talent through someone else's eyes...and you can't return to how you once saw yourself. That's when the mirror shatters.

Realizing that I have a slightly thick accent while speaking Spanish hasn't broken me or made me question my self-worth. I'm still secure in my skills and thankful to God that He has blessed me with this talent. However, I guess you could just say I'm more aware of my weaknesses than ever before. I've been out of college for about 15 months now. It's not a long time but it's long enough to realize my life is much different now. I don't have the advantage of going to a class or extracurricular activity to speak and practice my Spanish. I typically do talk to a friend in Spain about once a week or two. I also started meeting with a new friend here and we (try) to speak Spanish with each other for about an hour at a cafe. She also studied in Spain and will soon be marrying into a Puerto Rican family (fun, fun! haha). I love meeting with her and talking to all of my friends. ...But, if I want to immerse myself outside of my normal routine it's up to me. I listen to music in Spanish nearly every day but I don't always get to read articles or practice translating from Spanish to English. Or I might tape a movie on our DVR but not get around to it til much later.

The point is this: If I want to continue building up my skills in Spanish, I have to make the effort. There is no one in my life assigning me homework or papers. Or telling me to watch this movie or that or come to the weekly Mesa Latina to chat. It's all up to me. The last 15 months of being out of college has taught me a lot. Most importantly it has taught me to consistently stay connected to the things I love: God, family, friends, Spanish, Spain, social issues, learning and so much more. I could let my attention on any of those things slip and lose the relationships or skills that I have spent years upon years cultivating and building up. As I look towards the future, it's not worth it lose focus. That's why I keep on keeping on -even when I make tons of mistakes in Spanish (okay, maybe at most 5-haha) or forget to call my mom back. It always pays off to invest my time into the things that are good and positive for me.

Don't worry if you have the worst accent in the world while speaking another language or can't run in perfect form to save your life. Over time enough practice can nearly correct that. If something is important to you, you will find a way to continue doing it. Don't give up!

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