‘Fake’ American accent anyone?

I was reading an article where the writer (Indian) critically mocks Indians who live in the west and pick up a ‘fake English accent’. And I have a problem with that comment in general.

In 2012, over two lakh jobs were added in the IT-BPO sector alone in India, according to a Nasscom article. Now, I’ve taken up a couple of BPO interviews myself before starting my master’s program to earn a few quick bucks, while I got the job both times, I just couldn’t convince myself to sign that damn offer letter. I knew this was an industry that I didn’t want to venture into and my temperamental nature would have gotten me fired at some point had I proceeded anyway. Now, if you’ve ever taken up a BPO entry level job interview or worked for one, you know how learning to speak ‘The American Accent’ is more important than troubleshooting or technical skills. A newbie in this industry will listen to tapes, read chapters on pronunciation to get his Rrrrs’ to twist, watch their TV shows to understand the American way of life and to use that cursed accent for 9-10 hours on a any given day without a break will go on to even feel good if an American caller compliments how “American” his English is. But, if you are someone who’s living in the US, American accent apparently makes one ‘fake’. Why exactly?

If the same chap working in a BPO says that he has started speaking English the American way even outside of work since he does that for half a day and is getting habituated to it, it’s completely fine, but if an Indian living in the US says that he mostly talks to his American colleagues all day long, watches American TV shows and news channels so he may have unwittingly picked up their accent a little bit, oh how it’s a prompt for mockery! And more often than not, I find Indians who mocking fellow Indians. A little hypocritical don’t you think?

I can’t speak English like the locals here do, I wish I did though, how I love the way they speak English, it’s charming and so dang funny, but I’ve started using lingos that are predominant in this country which I hadn’t realized until a friend pointed out recently, rather nicely.

I’ll give you another example. People in India move and live in different states all the time right? And we all know how each state in our motherland has its own culture, language, festivals, job market and so on. I am a Bangalorean, and I take immense pride in being one. Should we decide to go back to India and choose to live in Hyderabad let’s say, while I understand Telugu and converse fluently in Hindi to an extent, will I be branded ‘fake’ if I make an effort to learn to speak better Hindi and work on getting the darn pronunciation right? I know of people who gallantly announce that they don’t know or don’t want to learn the local language of the state that they live in. Happens in Bangalore all the time and not being able to speak in Kannada is a matter of pride among the Non-Kannada speaking Bangaloreans which is a little extreme if you ask me. They go around saying ‘Kannada Baralla’ and giggle, err, what’s so funny? But no one seems to care about that for some reason.

One may argue that Indians already know how to speak in English and they have nothing left to learn, well if you do, good for you. But a demographic study shows that the UK and the US have 97% and 95% English speaking population respectively. India comes third although less than 5% of our Indian population can speak, read and write with the same competitiveness compared to them, western counterparts. We have a long way to go still and we know that English is here to stay in India, so if I make a personal choice to speak or pronounce the west-way, I bloody don’t want to be called ‘fake’ for it. What does it even mean? If India hadn’t adapted to grow their English speaking population post-independence, there wouldn’t have been a market contributing a ginormous chunk to our GDP or a promise of 10 million outsourcing jobs by 2020. If people hate the accent so much, then why is that a qualifying criteria for most BPO jobs in India?

There is another community of Indians who claim to have forgotten how to speak in Hindi or in their mother tongue after having moved to the US (trust me they exist). Oh dear god, I’m not talking about ‘those’ people at all, just so you know. I have no real interest in talking about people who shallowly dis their roots.

As for me, I’m comfortable during meetings and presentations and have no fear speaking my mind, but I’ve realized that I know very little of this language and there is so much more to learn. During high school there was hardly any imperative on speaking grammatically correct English or teachers who took real interest in our pronunciations. There are many in the same boat as I am and get where I am coming from. Don’t you?

Indians want to live the American dream, want to earn in dollars, send their children to public schools here and dream of Yale and Harvard, celebrate their holidays, apply for citizenship the moment they get an opportunity and all that is okay, but should someone pick up on a little accent, we can’t stop mocking them. Why the double standard I ask? I agree that not all Indians are able to speak their accent the moment to decide to, but who are we to make rude remarks or stop them?

Kannada is my mother tongue and I won’t ever be able to *feel* the same way I do when I speak my language. It’s only natural and it’s is in my blood after all. One may not be interested in accent change really and I respect that wholeheartedly, I’m not either, but a few others may want to, so why bash the poor guy for wanting to speak in a certain way? Who the heck are we to judge?

When I moved to the US a couple of years ago, there have been instances where I’ve laughed at people too when someone would bring up this topic, I buckled under the stereotype that existed without giving it enough thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I want to apologize to all those people who I may have mistakenly laughed at (in my head of course), I am sorry you guys. The more I think about it, the more I realize how pathetic it is for anyone to sit and ridicule someone simply because they want to speak a language in a fashion that’s more acceptable by global standards.

PS: It feels like my fuse is blown every time I decide to pen something down. Sigh, it feels good now that I got it off my chest. Plus, ranting is only natural when Seattle winters start to set in. Oops, I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about the winter this year, shush, mum’s the word.


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