Have an accent? Celebrate!

Nas Daily recently made a video on “Why I don’t have an accent.” So many viewers commented that he does have an accent, which surprised him and he gave a somewhat defensive response. It was interesting for me to see this. I used to hate it when people say “Your English is so good”, “You have very little accent” or “I can barely hear any accent”. Although they meant it as a compliment, I would take it as a daunting verdict that I still have a Chinese accent. I realized later on that this discontent with the faint accent I have comes from the sense of inferiority as a non-native speaker and minority living in the U.S. On top of that, I felt pressured to speak perfect English so I could push back as much as possible the stereotype of Chinese people not being able to speak good English.

On a deeper level, there is the issue of internalized racism — I was at war with my Chinese identity for years (resolved now, yayyyy!). It wasn’t until I finally left the US to see the world did I realize just how important it is to embrace whatever accent I have in any languages I speak as long as the accent does not hinder authentic communication. I can still choose to perfect my English, but it will never again come from the place of fear and self-rejection.

Also, everyone has an accent! I have an accent when I speak Chinese too, I don’t pronounce the “ng” nasal sound in “standard” Mandarin. What is considered as standard or accented depends on the power dynamic among the cultures that the speakers come from.

Lastly, in a few decades, or even sooner, the world will get used to Chinese accent, Indian accent, and many others as the power dynamic of cultural, technological and political influences is bound to change. So now when people say that my English is good or that I have very little Chinese accent, I celebrate the fact that I have my unique flavor!