Accents – sounding sexy or lost in translation?

Accents are one of those things that can either be a help or a hindrance. When I say “help”, I mean, in the way that makes others swoon and fall in love with you. They will help you with your bags, help you with directions, and maybe invite you (the sexy-sounding foreigner!) home for dinner and drinks. However, an accent can also mean that you will be, at best, misunderstood or a source of entertainment, or at worst, the victim of frustration and anger.

Of course, nobody actually gives a second thought to their accent when they’re in their home city or country. You’re just one of the locals. However, once you’ve left your brethren and step into unfamiliar surroundings of a foreign city or country, it can be a dead giveaway you’re not a local anymore.

In the Philippines last week, I met a number of Americans on their vacations. We were on an organised pub crawl, presumably because we were drawn to the opportunity to meet fellow sociable travellers, and not just for the promise of free shooters and cheap-as-chips alcoholic beverages.

I soon became a bit of an instant sex goddess, not because I was dressed in a short skirt (which I was – it’s a tropical country!) or because I was extremely confident (did I mention free shooters and cheap-as-chips alcoholic beverages already?). No, it was all because I opened my mouth and my Aussie accent rolled forth, and to my new American friends, perhaps reminiscent of Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchette (certainly more so than Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee, one hopes). Receiving numerous urgings from several menfolk to “oh, just keep talking – your accent is just so sexy!”, I was revelling in my newfound quasi-celebrity, and feeling a bit like the Australian Sophia Vergara.

Yes, it seems that Americans love the Aussie accent, just like Aussies find the French accent exotic and sexy. For me, the Spanish accent makes my knees buckle. I enthusiastically cheer on Fernando Alonso in the Formula 1 just so that I can hear his rolling Rs in the post-race interviews.

Lost in Translation

On the flip side, having an accent can be a pain in the arse sometimes. Requesting water can be a challenge in America, where numerous repetitions and different permutations of wo-dah or wo-ter are attempted before you just throw up your hands and throw out the most American sounding wa-derrrr, at which point the flash of recognition crosses their face and you’re left wondering, do we speak the same language??

Scottish accents, particularly those from Glasgow, are impossible to understand. As are people from Manchester, England. I’ve worked with folk from both of these places and it requires 500% more concentration than following the plot of Inception. If you’re Glaswegian or Mancunian, you are probably already accustomed to our blank looks and confusion. And there is no shortage of people that don’t understand Indian accents. Despite the most concerted efforts of listening and concentration over a shitty telephone line, those poor call centre workers in Bangalore must endure countless Westerners venting their frustration at them when they were already majorly pissed off at the poor service of their bank/mobile phone provider/airline/credit card company.

In our future travels, hopefully we will all encounter far more instances of our accents opening doors and opportunities for us rather than frustration and confusion. If nothing else, a foreign accent creates a conversation starter – where are you from? – for you to meet new friends!

* Image courtesy of Focus Features

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2 thoughts on “Accents – sounding sexy or lost in translation?

  1. I always find English native speakers to be more open to different accents, say, for example the Chinese. Maybe because there’s a few different ways to speak English and only one ‘correct’ accent in China when you speak mandarin.

    But it’s not only the Chinese… I’ve come across it in Europe too, if ur trying to speak their language they just look at you blankly. They just aren’t so “exposed” to foreign accents.

    • I think you have a point there. Not that many native English speakers really choose to learn another language if it’s not out of necessity, unlike the Europeans, who seem to pick up 3 or 4 languages, including English. A friend of mine is a totally Aussie guy and learnt German at school. When he meets native Germans, they’re just shocked that an Australian bothered learning their language!

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