How my accent defines me

How my accent defines me


April reading Harry Potter when she was younger
April reading Harry Potter when she was younger
Photo: April Xiaoyi Xu

“So… where does the British accent come from?”

“Do you really speak like that in real life?”

“Ah! You are the girl from China who has a British accent! Spotted you at last!”

Classmates, professors, and strangers alike have asked similar questions. This has been going on for years. I would quickly give out the frequently-repeated set of response, that one of the ways I learnt English was through watching Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice

“As a child, I would watch those films over and over, even after I could memorise most of the lines. I simply enjoyed doing it,” I would tell them. I tend to not mention how I adore the elegance and clarity of the sounds, fearing to offend my American audience.

However, as time went on, I saw the necessity of firing a question back at the enquirers. “But I have been Americanising my accent. Am I failing?” Gazing at me with a mixed feeling of pity and disbelief, my new acquaintances would gently nod. They could still readily detect the Britishness under a thin coat of faked American accent at the mere utterance of two or three words. 

Frankly, I have been puzzled at my own attempt to Americanise my accent. And my spelling. I am used to adamantly spelling “memorize” as “memorise”, and ignoring my laptop’s dotted red lines as it loyally auto-checks my spelling. 

As first-year students, we all try to blend in. The task is more challenging for us, international students, who experience cultural shocks no matter how Americanised our lives have been prior to our arrival in the United States. Having attended an international high school in Beijing where the American accent was dominant, I felt that my accent had always stood out whenever I opened my mouth to speak in class, or with my friends. The realisation propelled me to change.

As a self-identified Anglophile, I have considered the British accent as an aspect that has always defined me. It has been part of my personal brand image since I started gaining fluency in the language. From modern business practices, we see how brands evolve and develop, sometimes achieving greater success, and sometimes getting lost at a loss of its core principles or ideologies. 

This analogy parallels my situation. Admittedly, I despise my current accent: a peculiar blend of American and British accents that would automatically raise a few more eyebrows. It is truly frustrating that I could hardly transition back to my former accent, nor smoothly acquire a perfectly American accent. 


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