Monday, October 12, 2009

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…»

Normally? Normally?!

«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…


Maryon said...

I was wondering as to the outcome of said meeting!
WTF certainly about covers it!
What a "plonker" - in British Estuary speak - the general "accent" in this part of the world ie: around London,Kent, Surrey and Essex. But then we would not want to confuse the poor "blighter" would we.
I can even tell the differnece between accents in different parts of France and I do not even speak the lingo.
And take it from me - there is nothing worse on the ear than a Birmingham accent.
My Parisien nephew (now at Trinity in Dublin) had the same problem as your daughters - he was bilingual and found English lessons tedious but then he had the same trouble with Victor Hugo - He is reading engineering so it figures.

babzee said...

ROFLMAO!! Can WTF be transliterated into French as QLF? I may start using that, even if it can't. I guess we've both had our share of Twilight Zone conversations this week with non-native English speakers. Mine involved a two Persians and a Mormon, which sounds like a the start of a good joke. Back to Planet Earth!

Bridget said...

Dad will be interested in your chat but I was feeling a bit as though I were Alice. Off with her head said the Red Queen, or was it White??? Go to the Doctor did we?

Beth said...

Maryon- I'm glad to know that your nephew seems to be turning out all right, despite the "handicap" of bilingualism.

Cris-I'm voting for 'WTF' as our official "Semi-obscene(?) Acronym of the Month".

Mom-My head was spinning by the end and about ready to fall off- no need to chop.
Doctor? We don't need no stinkin' doctor?

Teacher Mommy said...

Um. You have got to be kidding me. Wow.

Maybe what he thinks is "American" is, oh, I don't know, "redneck" or something?

Kind of our version of Cockney??

Beth said...

I guess you must be right, TM. His familiarity with an "American accent" probably comes from watching old episodes of "HeeHaw"...

Kelly said...

It would have been hard not to slap him.

oreneta said...

Weird weird weird weird...I did think an Alice in Wonderland drawing appropriate!

Goodness, what an idiot.

Heidi said...

Waaallll, ma'am, ah guess y'all ain't from around here!

Honestly...someone who can't tell the difference between an English accent and an American one is nuts. Nuts, I say!

That is, unless you and the kids have developed an English accent and don't even know it ;)

Beth said...

I'm SURE we haven't picked up any Brit inflections. In fact, the grandmother of one of Tya's British pals used to bemoan the fact that my eldest was such a "bad" influence on her grand daughter's accent. Sophie even began saying toMAYto instead of "toMAHto. Horrors!

Pardon My French said...

Huh. Interesting that he can't hear the differences between accents, even though he apparently has a good enough ear to develop a decent one himself. Either that or the Eye of Doom intimidated him into playing dumb, which was of course the sensible thing to do.

I once had an adult student insist that I had a British English accent because he was convinced he couldn't understand Americans, though I'm clearly closer to Hee Haw than the Queen. (I'll just go ahead and overlook the above comments about the beautiful Southern accent, tripthongs and all *ahem*).

La Framéricaine said...

Well, all I can say is perhaps he's got a thing going on with his hearing and discernment of various accents that is akin to tone-deafness in some people who would love to sing and can't because, well, they are tone-deaf! That's got to be it.

The story is actually quite stupifying and funny. I really do believe that the girls should assert themselves more in class and subtly "take over" the teaching of American English to their classmates.

I absolutely LOVE accents! All of them. They are so bloody amazing, fascinating, wild, challenging, and gratifying!

I remember my utter amazement one day more than 30 years ago in a ladies room at GE in NoCal overhearing a young woman in the stall talking to her friend and telling her that she wanted a BAAAAANbuster, which was a Barnbuster hamburger from one of the chains, the name of which has escaped me. Another memorable one was the young girl calling Bo-Go-Tah, Columbia, Ba-GOATA! I almost wet my pants over that one!

I am not a linguist so I do not have finely honed knowledge and understanding about syllable stress, pronunciation, accent, inflection, ect. But I do love all that mess!

Be well, Beth, and kudos on having maintained your calm and not having lopped the dimwit's head right off the first time he asserted that American sounds dreadful (an English word, if ever there was one. We would say "awful." Snark! Snark! Snark!)


babzee said...

I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h
Shall be pronounced "Plow."
"Zat's easy when you know," I say,
"Mon Anglais I'll get through."

My teacher say zat in zat case
O-u-g-h is "oo."
And zen I laugh and say to him
"Zees Anglais make me cough."

He say, "Not coo, but in zat word
O-u-g-h is `off.'"
O sacre bleu! Such varied sound
Of words make me hiccough.

He says, "Again my friend is wrong;
O-u-g-h is `uff.'"
I say, "I try to spik your words,
I can't pronounce them, though."

"In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong;
O-u-g-h is `owe'!"
"I'll try no more, I shall go mad,
I'll drown me in ze lough."

Joy said...

Hmmm, so far, the only response I have is, indeed, WTF?? That, and admiration at your amazing self-restraint... Good luck to your daughters with the rest of the English class. :)

Maryon said...

I simply love it!