Yuko is an exchange student from Waseda University in Tokyo and will be graduating in 2017. She was born and raised in New Zealand and has often thought about the significance of the difference in accents in the English language.
Having a New Zealand accent while being Japanese has brought curiosity to many conversations on ‘where’ I come from, which I never actually mind to how people react to or respond. In fact when I speak Japanese, I have a kansai (southern-central) dialect which people also find very intriguing as I live in Tokyo.
While living there for 4 years I found out that many people who live in Tokyo, but are from different parts of the country tend to speak in regular Japanese during the day and their native accents back at home as they said it was somewhat ‘embarrassing’ to be different.
I did not realise that I had such a strong accent until I left New Zealand and people were speaking in such a different manner. The American way of speaking english was so prominent that I would sometimes doubt myself to how words are pronounced and if the words I were speaking were from British phrases. I have been misunderstood sometimes when I had asked for a certain object and that it turned out to be nothing close to that in American english and ended up with some embarrassing moments.
This year was the first time that I had ever been in the States and I did not know if I was going to be understood here as my Japanese friends who have lived abroad sometimes had difficulty understanding my English. They would sometimes ask me to repeat the word several times or I would have to try to speak in an American accent for them to understand my message. But at the same time, I would get compliments on my accent being told that it’s unique and elegant which I certainly do appreciate as I am a proud kiwi as well as a Japanese. It is part of who I am and I do not intend to change that.
When I skyped with my brother a couple months ago he pointed out that I still had my New Zealand accent and that I sounded really weird (he had the accent too). He had changed his accent to an American one so that people could understand him more and so that his cram school students would also learn the ‘American’ English. I had found it interesting for him to be able to change his accent so easily because it is part of who he is, but now that I think about it, it may have possibly been so that he would reduce the amount of being misunderstood for his career and future job.
I feel that my accent is slowly fading and changing the longer I stay away from New Zealand but I will most certainly try to retain it as long as I can.