While I was hosting a workshop last month, several participants expressed that their children found their accent to be embarrassing. I am guessing this feeling of embarrassment is one that all kids have about something their parents do. My mom still likes to tell the story of when my family was shopping at Water Tower Place on Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The four of us were the last to enter the glass elevators. The doors closed. We did the standard turn-around to face the doors, and then much to our surprise, instead of going up, the doors opened on the same floor again. My mom cheerily said, “Hello again!” to the other people waiting for an elevator. Being a teenager at the time, my sister thought this was the most mortifying experience - talking to complete strangers! My mom loves telling this story because it proves how such little things can embarrass us.
Despite having an obvious American English accent, I, myself, have felt feelings of embarrassment about my Midwestern accent. My cousins (who grew up on the West Coast and lived there most of their lives) used to tease me about my speech when I was younger, so I have to admit that there are certain words that I used to be conscious about pronouncing differently, words that contain an /a/ sound as in “box, hot and mom.” Oh, how they used to like to tease me, “Moooom!” they would mimic after I called my mom for something. Apparently, we Midwesterners articulate the /a/ sound with more of a nasal undertone than those who live in the rest of the United States. We also frequently substitute a “long a” sound for the /ae/ sound, so we would pronounce “wagon” like “way-gun” instead of “wa-gun.” While in high school, my good friend and former exchange student from Belgium also pointed out these differences in pronunciation, not to tease me, but merely as a point of interest.
It was likely around this time that I unconsciously started reducing my accent since I do not recall making a conscious decision to change it. Code switching when speaking with my family and friends with whom I grew up in contrast to speaking to people on the East Cost is now natural and automatic for me.
Others feel completely different about their accents. They enjoy having one and relate it to their identity. I understand that it is part of who you are and something you share with other people with whom you relate. It makes you unique in a place that is likely not your original home.
If you do not share those feelings and you feel embarrassed by the way you pronounce English, then empower yourself and seek accent reduction services so that you feel more confident in communicating with others.