You know how sometimes when travelling, upon opening your mouth and ordering your food in language X, the waiter looks at you for a while and then proceeds to ask "Where are you from?" or "That's a funny accent, where did you get it?" Well how about when that happens every day?
English and I have been happily married for the past 2 years - it easily deserves the status of my primary language of communication. To anyone who has ever wondered how often I speak Finnish in my everyday life, the answer is never. I somehow never end up skyping with my friends or family, so six months can easily pass without me saying even a word in Finnish out loud (excluding all those awkward moments when a foreign friend wants me to demonstrate how it sounds like, in which case I usually say "hääyöaie" and watch their smile instantly melt away). But as someone who spent her youth watching American TV shows, pursued an exchange semester in the UK, worked for a year in Canada and then studied in Ireland, my English accent is nothing but consistent.
I'm a sponge. A linguistic sponge. I sound like the mutilated lovechild of all my previous homes, and even places that have never been my home (looking at you, USA), and there's nothing more simultaneously entertaining and uncomfortable than a native English-speaker trying to figure where this monstrosity comes from.
So now that I'm back at living in an English-speaking country, I've taken some time to think whether or not I should try and pursue the local accent. Some influence is inevitable, for sure. I already find myself pronouncing certain words with an Irish twist, and the rhythm of my intonation is really going through some growing pains (almost literally - I sound like a teenage boy trying to gain control over their own voice). However, I feel kind of embarrassed of trying to use local words - in Ireland, things are always just grand or just a wee bit weird. Is it too self-righteous to try and sound like an Irish?
There are, of course, some traits of the Irish accent I find hard to mimic:
- Firstly, the R. For my entire life I've comfortably used the classic British, non-existent R, but suddenly I'm supposed to pronounce them? No effin' way. The worst part is it isn't even like the American soft R - it's something in-between the rolling R and the American R. How on earth do you make that sound?
- Th. That sound. when you hear an Irish person say "that", you know what I mean. It's like their tongue is stuffed somewhere deep in their throat in the beginning, and then it just kind of emerges like a spring of some kind from the depth of the Irish mouth, and makes this super deep and sharp gzth. Jesus. I don't even know how to describe that.
- Sometimes the letter E is O, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes U is E, but sometimes it's not. Depending on the accent, I think all Irish have a different interpretation on how to say these letters.
- The Irish don't pronounce the G at the end of verbs. I'm gettin' a wee bit frustrated with this one. ("one" of course pronounced as something that sounds pretty much like "wune"...)
I love Irish English, and sincerely wanted to believe it would naturally grow on me after a while. Seems like that's not going to happen without some effort after all. I wonder what's different? In the UK it took me two weeks to catch up on the Midlands dialect, but now, after half a year in the Emerald Isle, I still sound like a weird mixture of French-Canadian, Finnish and God knows what else.
Is the accent even important? Should I just go with the flow and let my hybrid English get loose? Getting understood is, above all, the most important thing when speaking a second language - right?
Do you think it's important to adopt local dialects? Or does it come out as a bit pretentious? Should non-native speakers always strive for the local accent? Share your thoughts in the comments below!