‘Ac­cen­tism’

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Adam Browski Adam Borowski (adam.borowski19­[email protected]) is a Pol­ish-English trans­la­tor and a busi­ness English teacher. He worked in China.

Do we re­ally live in times of equal­ity and di­ver­sity? That’s what var­i­ous pun­dits would have us be­lieve. Sadly, in many cases, equal­ity and di­ver­sity are only vague slo­gans.

There is a dra­matic dif­fer­ence be­tween es­pous­ing the phi­los­o­phy of di­ver­sity and pay­ing lip ser­vice to it for pub­lic re­la­tions pur­poses. As a case in point, let’s look at one of the last bas­tions of im­plicit dis­crim­i­na­tion, namely “ac­cen­tism.”

It’s no se­cret that speak­ing ex­cel­lent English gives you an un­par­al­leled level of free­dom. Pair English ex­cel­lence with money and the world is your oys­ter. How of­ten do you hear the ques­tion: “Why do you speak English so well?’’ If you’re a Korean who speaks ex­cel­lent English, you prob­a­bly hear this ques­tion a lot. As a Pole, I cer­tainly hear it a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great con­ver­sa­tion starter.

What would hap­pen if I spoke English with a heavy for­eign ac­cent? My so­cial sta­tus would di­min­ish in the eyes of oth­ers. Your ac­cent mat­ters, even when oth­ers are too po­lite to voice their con­cerns about how you sound in English. In fact, your ac­cent is a fun­da­men­tal part of your English com­pe­tence. Is it fair? Of course not. Life isn’t fair, no mat­ter how much we’d like it to be. It’s a cliche, but cliches of­ten con­tain the hard nuggets of truth.

Take a look at the call cen­ter in­dus­try in In­dia. Is it fair that call cen­ter em­ploy­ees are forced to adopt Amer­i­can ac­cents, even Amer­i­can names? Of course not. No­body cares if they feel dis­crim­i­nated against. When you en­ter a res­tau­rant, do you re­ally think you’re not im­me­di­ately judged by the way you speak? Of course you are. How about a busi­ness set­ting? You know the answer.

One pass­port lets you en­ter numer­ous coun­tries with­out a visa, while another pass­port makes your travel op­tions se­verely lim­ited. Is it fair? Of course not. There’s a rea­son why South Korea has one of the most pow­er­ful pass­ports on the planet. South Korea is seen as a cul­tured and rich na­tion.

Un­less you work for the U.N., no­body will care that you see your­self as a global cit­i­zen. We’ll never elim­i­nate dis­crim­i­na­tion and prej­u­dice, no mat­ter how hard we try. We’ll al­ways make as­sump­tions about oth­ers. It’s part of our hu­man na­ture.

We don’t usu­ally like crit­i­cism. It’s log­i­cal and nat­u­ral. Then again, aren’t peo­ple do­ing a dis­ser­vice to some­one who’s a poor English speaker, yet — he or she — lives in a bub­ble of un­de­served praise? Is the ‘‘ev­ery­one gets a tro­phy’’ men­tal­ity re­ally the way to go? It takes courage these days, it seems, to tell another per­son: ‘’Ac­tu­ally, your ac­cent isn’t that great.’’

We tend to trust those who sound like us, and it may even be in­grained at the sub­con­scious level. There ac­tu­ally are peo­ple who woke up with a for­eign ac­cent. Their lives are thrown into chaos, their so­cial iden­tity and so­cial sta­tus are ir­re­vo­ca­bly al­tered.

So don’t be­lieve any­one who tells you ac­cents aren’t im­por­tant.

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