Dear Auntie Janey,
I really can’t help but feel offended when my officemates make some comments on how i pronounce certain words and how strong my Filipino accent is. I’ve been working in Singapore for over a year now. I admit I’m really not very fluent (like MTV VJ fluent) in speaking English. I have to think of the right words to use, I have to construct sentences and phrases on my mind before i speak them out. I feel discriminated. I have so much respect for them but I really have no plans of adapting the Singlish grammar and accent. You probably know someone who does work here, you may want to hear from them. I want to be fair and neutral. I want to try to learn to remove the Filipino accent too. I want to speak the English language correctly. How can I learn to speak with the proper tone auntie? In general, how can I speak English better? And how can I stop feeling discriminated?
Dear Overseas Gay,
I remember a time when I was on holiday in Singapore a few years ago. My cousin took me to a place where Singaporeans ate their breakfast before going to work. We had the “traditional” Singaporean breakfast consisting of two poached eggs, coffee, roti, and whatnot. I have this habit of standing in places and spots that cause great inconvenience to other people. At that time, I was inadvertently standing behind a line to the counter. A pretty well-dressed Singaporean girl addressed me in a nasally-sort-of-British accent “Are you in the queue?” My brain froze. “Cue? As in barbecue?” I thought stupidly. The girl was smiling at me brightly and politely. Theme song of Jeopardy started playing in my head. After five seconds “Ah Q-U-E-U-E! Queue as in line!” my brain screamed triumphantly. After my epiphany, I said in my best Emma Thompson impression “No. I’m not in the queue”. I smiled sweetly and moved the hell out of the way.
Speaking English with a good accent is a skill. It is a result of training. The kids nowadays have better facility in speaking English because they have been exposed to Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network since they were a year old or earlier. They hear how it is spoken every day and the whole day, that’s why they speak like little Americans.
We, on the other hand, who were raised on Tagalog-dubbed Cedie, Princess Sarah ang Munting Prinsesa, Ghost Fighter, Sailormoon, Slayers, and even Magic Knight Rayearth need to undergo formal training. I was fortunate enough to have gone to schools which put great emphasis on speaking English correctly( it’s not “eygsheyls” it’s “eggshells”!). We had drills and regular exercises and it was coupled with my interest in numerous American TV shows. Because of that, I can almost perfectly approximate an American accent despite the fact that I have never set foot in that country. But, I only use it occasionally(pang-porma or whenever I find myself holding a microphone) and I employ my average Pinoy accent in my daily life. It would be ridiculous if I make porma at the carenderia.
I suggest you enroll in a formal speech class. Yes, you have to spend on this because it is an important skill in your workplace. When it comes to acquiring skills, we should get trained by the best or if not at least by those who are very good at it. The quality of our skills largely depend on those who trained us. We should not scrimp on this for the skills we acquire, we carry forever.
Once you have trained in speaking proper English, you should look for venues where you can employ your skill regularly. Knowing how to speak English properly does not mean you are also adept in conversing with it. Musicians practice everyday with their instruments. Constant practice is the only way one can maintain, hone, and sharpen one’s skill. So as a speaker, you should talk. A lot. There are public-speaking clubs out there(some of them non-profit) whose sole purpose is the improvement of the public-speaking skills of its members. In order to speak properly, you should be around people who love to speak.
I used to be a member of one such organization and I have seen many people who were very inept at speaking at the beginning gradually blossom into competent and very talkative speakers. They gained confidence and expertise by constantly employing the speaking skills that they’ve learned.
But the most important thing in knowing how to speak a language is by reading works written in that language. By reading in a certain language, you will learn how to think in that language. You will understand the different connotations and nuances of the words. People seem to forget that thinking and speaking are intricately related.
If you need psychological counseling immediately, consider calling the In Touch helpline. Numbers on the left side of the page.