“I went whale watching on the weekend.”
“No, whaale watching.”
“While you were watching what?”
“Wait. What did you see?”
It was at this point that I paused, cocked my head to the side and really looked at this teacher with her frizzy, bleach-blonde hair and electric blue mascara. Because as an Aussie, sometimes people do, as we say ‘take the piss’ (or as you would say ‘joke around’) out of my accent, but she was quite serious. I’ve had these problems before, sure, but that was with a voice-operated telephone service who ONLY understood what I was saying when I put on the WORST Californian girl accent that I learned from the teen movies.
“Whales. I went whale watching”.
“Ha. Sorry, I don’t understand? Why-al??”
“Hghhh (Embarrassed-awkward exhale)”
“W-H-A-L-E. You know…umm… Orcas! I saw Orcas.”
“Ohhhhh. Whales. Cool”.
And that was me trying to ‘connect’ and form a relationship with a teacher in the lunchroom.As someone who has done a lot of traveling and interacted with many cultures and languages, I was actually quite used to comments on how easy it was for people to understand me. People thought that I was British because I spoke so eloquently and precisely. I knew to slow down my speech rate, overarticulate and pronounce every phoneme in a word, wary of the ever present coarticulation effect. But for the life of me, this teacher could not figure out what I was saying.With the Mutual Recognition Agreement opening up the doors for SLP’s to work in other countries, a big questions that one starts to ask themselves is: Will I understand them and will they understand me?
The answer is….most of the time!I blame vowels. It’s all their fault, really. With so many variables such as vowel height, backness, vowel length, lip roundness and nasalisation, vowels just throw everything in accents off. It is because of them that I was having this Australian-American communication breakdown. And it went both ways. My husband is Minnesotan and so I hear “Did you want to meet dawn at the crick after we finish the ruff”. I’ll leave you to figure out what that means because I certainly didn’t.
Now let’s think practically. Assessments. This was my biggest concern. Was me being from a different country and having an accent going to impact the receptive language of my student’s and therefore validity of formalised assessments? The Recalling Sentences from the CELF was an eye opener, because even though student’s had to copy what I said, they would still say it in their accent. I said /last/ they said /laest/. But then there were the kids who looked at me a little funny and said ‘what?’.
So I made a compromise. I spoke “Ausmerican”.
Now I had practice doing something similar when I dated a French-Canadian with the very French sounding name of Jean Francois. You could not say “Jean Francois” in an Australian accent. You just couldn’t. So I’d accent-switch. Like in a supermarket I’d say “Oh I forgot something. Hey! Jean Francois, can you get me some tomato sauce? Cheers mate!”. I felt like an idiot breaking out into this French accent just to say his name, but this actually worked well for me in America.
I knew the CELF-4 like the back of my hand. Like many of you, I’m sure you can repeat the subtest instructions off by heart. So I just accent switched. I plodded along all Aussie-like, then threw my best attempt at an American accent in for a word or two. “The coach could not find the uniforrrms that the team worrre last yearrrr”.Okay, so I maybe I over-articulated my ‘r’ sounds just a little, but this was another thing that unconsciously happened. I just started to rhoticise my ‘r’. I mean, I really had to. I was supposed to be doing ‘r’ therapy’ on kids who said their ‘r’ just like me. “Just tell people they’re half-Australian”, I’d say with a wink to the parents. That wink didn’t quite work with everyone.
So look, don’t let your accent hold you back or get in the way of taking that dream job. Sure, there will be little hiccups, but your spelling and charade skills will greatly improve as a result!
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