After spending over a year in a place where instead of saying “hasta luego,” people say “see you later,” I’ve seen a pattern when it comes to people reacting to the way I speak. From innocent giggles and adorable looks when I say the word “chocolate,” to ludicrous questions regarding whether or not I can curse in two languages, some people still think that it’s amusing to have an accent. Don’t get me wrong, having an accent is pretty cool. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to make others understand that you are more than how you are heard, and other times, people do things that are not appropriate. Since this is something that happens with unfortunate regularity, here’s a list of 9 things you shouldn’t do/say to a person with an accent:
1. To say that their accent is a “cool quirk.”
Stop thinking that accents are quirks. They are not. Pop your bubble, stop referring to a person as quirky just because of their accent. It’s not flattering anyone, instead it’s making a fool out of you.
2. Laugh while they’re talking to you.
“Oh, hey, I was wondering if you wanted to go to New Orleans this Fri-” “HAHAHAHA.” Haha. To burst in the middle of a conversation just because you thought it was funny and okay to laugh due to the way a person pronounced a word is not respectful. It doesn’t matter if a person has lived in a place that lacks diversity, respect is expected from everyone.
3. Laugh while they’re talking to you AND ask the person next to you what they said.
This situation could be easily avoidable. Instead of laughing and pretending it’s totally normal to ask another person what other said, just directly ask the person who “mispronounced” or who said something “unintelligible” to repeat themselves. It will both avoid a very awkward moment and offensive feelings from the opposite party.
4. To tell them to repeat themselves, with their accent, because you want other people to hear how those words were pronounced.
“Oh my god, you HAVE to say this again in front of Matt! He will die.” Guess what, I don’t have to. My voice is not your entertainment.
5. To ask why they don’t obtain or try to obtain an American accent.
To tell a person this is perhaps the worst thing you could do. This suggestion will not just slip aside and get drawn into oblivion, but it will be attached to a person’s mind. It will be there while they order coffee from the coffee shop, and when they ask for directions to a complete stranger.
Some people can be very sensible when it comes to their accent, so it shouldn’t be expected to see the same reactions from everyone. When somebody asks for standardization of the voice and tone, they’re saying on an indirect way that accents are a flaw when they’re neither British, Australian nor Irish.
6. To compare your accent with a British accent, AND to say that the British accent is more attractive.
This can get very awkward when a person’s native language is not even English. We should stop comparing mother tongues with second languages.
7. To assume that a person’s accent actually says something about them.
Yes, it might say a little about their background, but it doesn’t define a person. People are more than just their accents, and this is something that can’t be understood by all parties. If a person has a Mexican accent, some will feel the need to create a stereotype and categorize them as a “typical Mexican immigrant,” whatever that means.
8. To link an accent with a person’s skin color.
For some reason some people seem to be amused every time I speak because my “skin color and the way I speak don’t match.” Although I refuse to be offended by that statement because it’s very ignorant, others take it seriously. It makes you think what are people expecting from you, to speak according to your skin color?
9. To deny a person’s nationality because they “don’t sound from that country.”
It normally goes like this:
“Where are you from?” “The Dominican Republic.” “No way! You must be from X Country instead!”
Even though this can be seen as a joke, it is a very sensitive topic to joke about. You might encounter a smile at the end of that statement, but that smile is a “please, stop talking” in disguise.
Do not make fun of accents, or accents will make fun of you. That last sentence doesn’t make sense, and that’s exactly how a person is looked at when they try to be funny while mocking somebody’s accent. They simply don’t make sense.