Accent privilege

Recently, I started to see privilege in having an American accent. You can go anywhere with it and be considered cool. But mostly, I’ve been told, understandable. It makes me wonder if the American accent was developed through generations of immigrants from everywhere in the world having to learn English, and the rules or pronunciation of American English simply made more sense to English learners than the rules of British English.

But back to accent privilege. Even in high school, the Viet-Am kids who were born in America would look down on the ones who spoke English with an accent. Even I was no exception to judging the kids that we used to call FOBs. Sure, we both spoke two languages, but I spoke better English than they did. And everyone else understood me better.

In Japan, students are learning English as a foreign language, and are also expected to be able to understand academic literature by their senior year. For the kids in Aizu, this is impossible without extra English courses outside of school, and only the students who can afford it can have this ability. And if you compare that to the American students, how many can actually read and understand academic papers in a foreign language like French and Spanish? Not to mention that English, French, and Spanish all fall under the Romance languages, while Japanese and English are completely in different language families.

So when someone says they know 9 different languages, I ask them which ones, and if they’re all from the same language family, then that’s a privilege to have been able to learn a language that share common roots with other ones, too. Japanese and Korean are in a separate language family all on their own.

When you meet a group of Asian people, all speaking English, but all with their own accent and style, who are you most likely to trust and work with?

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