We were about halfway through our little talk today when the twins’ English teacher suddenly pronounced «Americans sound dreadful!»
I burst out laughing, even though I knew he hadn’t meant to be funny. I had to. My choices at that point were: «laugh uproariously» or «slap him silly» and if I ended up in prison on assault charges, I wouldn’t be able to write in my blog, right?
It’s pretty amazing that I kept so cool. When I’d walked into the classroom, one of the first things I’d said was «I’m an American» and now he was telling me that I (and my girls!) sounded «dreadful»?
What on earth was the man thinking?
All I could do was laugh at him. And he looked totally surprised. Completely shocked.
I ventured a mild «Perhaps you sometimes find the accent a bit harsh to your ears?»
«No, I mean it sounds really dreadful.» he insisted.
It was really getting old.
The conversation had started out reasonably well. When I arrived, I’d immediately started speaking English, though he kept answering in French. but after a while, he finally switched to English. He spoke it reasonably well-not like a native speaker, but quite correctly- with a very British accent. I'd expected worse.
I introduced myself and explained that our family speaks English at home- I didn’t begin with any of my own concerns about the class. Instead, I asked how he thought the girls were doing. He complained that Mallory often ignores the lesson at hand and skips ahead in the textbook. He also said she didn’t talk much in class.
I pointed out that spending a week learning how to say «Hello. My name is Mallory» was probably pretty dull for a child who reads huge novels in English. I also mentioned that she probably didn’t feel a need to «practice» her English, as she already speaks it perfectly.
I asked about the accent issue and he said it wasn’t one.
«They‘re perfect . The girls sound just like the language tapes we use.»
It was a bit of a WTF moment for me. I began to wonder if the twins were using a British accent when they spoke at school. But I didn’t think so. Not really.
And then he came up with his «Americans sound dreadful» remark.
None of it added up. He didn’t seem like a horrible person. Astoundingly dim, perhaps, but not horrible. Why would he sit there and tell me to my face that I sound dreadful?
And why did he think the twins sounded fine?
First, I pointed out that, with 300 million people using it, an American accent is not only acceptable, it is by far the most common.
He answered ( for the third time!!) «But it’s dreadful!»
I’d really had enough.
«You’re sitting there and telling me that I sound dreadful?» I accompanied this with what my kids call my «Eyes of Doom». (If the "Eyes of Doom" came equipped with a deadly brain-melting ray, I SO would have used it on him.)
«No! of course not!» he looked quite shocked. «You speak perfectly normally, as do your daughters. Until now, I’d actually thought they were British…»
«An American accent IS normal. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! And don’t you hear mine? Can’t you tell the difference between the way you are speaking and the way I am? The differences in pronunciation? Can‘t you hear it?»
No, he couldn’t.
Here’s the deal- besides being a dope, the guy apparently has NO ear for language. He literally couldn’t hear the difference between my slightly internationalized, but still recognizable Midwestern English from Nebraska and his own very British English. It hardly seems possible that a language teacher could be so clueless, but there you go.
As he was such a dope, there was no use in being subtle. I finally said «The reason I came here was to make sure you didn’t think that the twins had a «dreadful», incorrect accent and hold it against them. But as you can’t hear it, I guess it’s not an issue…»
We talked some more, but it seemed kind of hopeless. The whole exchange was so nonsensical.
The only good that came of it was that I was able to make it clear that the girls know more English than he does and that it’s not surprising that the lessons often can’t hold their interest. And now he knows that he’d better be on his toes, or I’ll come back for another nice chat.
And here’s a question for you: Is the average American accent really any worse-sounding than a Liverpool or Birmingham accent?
I don’t think so.
Not that it matters to me, as I am apparently now speaking the Queen’s English…