I was with the Form 2 students at MRSM Serting, Negeri Sembilan speaking about how to be confident in English. During the break, one student approached me to ask me how to change accent.
I asked, “Why?”
He simply answered, “My friends make fun of my accent. I sound Chinese when I speak English.”
I said, “What’s wrong with that?”
He said, “It’s not normal.”
Poor kid. His English is perfectly fine. In fact, I believe he is on the right track. If he continues to practice and practice, he might be super fluent.
But being teased by his friends caused his journey to stall.
I can sense that one of the factors why his friends tease his accent and why he thinks it’s not normal is because of how we view English in the first place.
We have a skewed idea of what “normal English” means. Normal English means American or British English. That is simply not true.
American or British English could be considered as the standard because without a standard, things could get messy. It’s like having a standard measurement scale.
However, not having the standard accent doesn’t mean that you are not normal. So, I tried to change the way he thinks by giving him a simple example: the Malay language.
The Malay language has a standard accent. We call it Bahasa Baku. But the majority (if not all) of Malays don’t use Bahasa Baku in our daily lives. We all speak with an accent, representing different states in Malaysia.
So I ask him what Malay accent does he use. He said, “KL accent.”
I said, “Well, that’s not normal. But you seem okay with it.”
I used the term “not normal” as a comparison to what he said earlier. I just wanted him to see the way he uses the term “not normal” is in fact…not normal.
He kept quiet. I can see that he was thinking about it. I can see that there is a sense of realization in his eyes. But, he still looks worried.
Changing his mindset will not change his friends. They might still tease him no matter what. But changing his mindset will change how he sees himself.
I don’t want him to think that there’s anything wrong with his English. It is perfectly fine. From there, he can hold his head up high and continue his journey.
I want him to think, “There’s nothing wrong with my accent. I am good with what I have.”
So the next time his friends tease him again, he will know who is not normal in that scenario.