Onyinye OyedeleMonday, March 27, 2006
[email protected]
Ontario, Canada



here is no doubt that one of the "evidence" of your sojourning abroad is how you speak. The way you pronounce some words and twist your mouth when speaking your phonetics has a way of captivating people who are in awe of those who have lived abroad! In one way or another your pronunciations will be affected. One of the first things I learnt in integrated science in secondary school is that there are some factors that affect growth; such as your environment. If you have a set of twins separated at birth and one is sent to the United States while the other is left in Nigeria, there is no doubt that if they unite after many years that they will sound and look different. The way they see things will be different too. If they decide to swap places they will also adapt in different ways. The twin who had lived in Nigeria will not automatically start speaking "Americana". So many of us out here battle everyday with our accents in our struggle to blend.

Every ethnic group has an accent peculiar to them. It is their trademark and national identity in most cases. Should we be ashamed of it? In the process of blending, the most important thing is to strive to communicate properly. Let what you are trying to say be packaged in the best simple English possible. I used to think university lecturers would be impressed by the use of big words in essays! They are actually looking for simple and straightforward sentences, when it comes to written English. Of course we might need to improve on some of our intonations when you are speaking so that your lecturers, fellow students and work colleagues will hear you clearly. I also learnt that you have to talk gently otherwise you might be mistaken as being aggressive. We have a lot of facial expressions when talking or trying to narrate an incident! We are very good with hand and other body gestures, and sometimes our actions could be misinterpreted. There is a need for organizations to understand cultural expressions and try not to read the wrong signals. Until then ……….

The "switching" approach is still one of the ideal ways of handling this accent issue. Just switch from your Nigerian to British, American or Canadian accent as the situation requires and be calm. Call it faking…em, I will say it is a "blending skill". Well, in my house I will speak what I like and demonstrate, but because outside I am in a different cultural setting and I want to be understood, I will try to blend. It is an adjustment we have to make sometimes but I won't give myself unnecessary headache because I want to sound like an American, British or a Canadian. If along the way my Nigerian accent shows up……it will be business as usual and no apologies! If you go to a Chinese restaurant, do you understand all that they are saying? They speak English but you can still hear their accent and that will not stop you from placing your order. If you hear some other ethnic accents, you will cherish your own.

If you think you sound "Ibotic"(strong ibo accent), or you have another "conc" naija accent, it is fine as long as you know how to express yourself well. Just make some adjustments here and there and polish yourself. I have heard some British and American Street English that is not proper. If you want to learn the language, why not learn the real Queens English, not……….I don it! Me and my brother was there! In Nigeria, we are taught very well in school. We speak very well. We don't all have "conc." accents and we should not allow this issue to limit us in anyway. You can still continue to pursue your dreams and soon you will rise above any accent barriers.

Sometimes children who were born, or have lived out here for a long time tease their parents about their Nigerian accents. You will hear one little boy speaking polished English and he will be telling his mum that her English is not correct! Ah children! What a joy to just watch them grow. Sometimes, you even worry about the accent they will pick up ; your naija accent or oyinbo accent? Above all, let them know how to express themselves and enjoy the process of learning and growing up. Kids out here sometimes know too much for their small heads! We might need to also be abreast of things so that we can keep them on track and understand what they are doing.

If you are a leader, the most important thing is for your followers to understand what you are saying. Whatever language you choose to convey your information, the key is coming down to the level where they can hear you. Use the terms that the people understand. Sometimes when Presidents are being interviewed on national TV, if they are from a French or Spanish speaking country, they speak through an interpreter. That is because they are not representing themselves but a nation and their people. If you are a leader of a company, church, organization or group with a diverse cultural membership, you indeed have a big challenge in your hands. You can not completely remove who you are from how you present yourself but you might need to make an effort to help everyone to blend and feel that they belong. They all have their individual culture and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it because this is what they have known all their lives. They can not come over here and forget. But we should accommodate each other and appreciate other cultures as long as it values human life and sees everyone as equal.

We have also adopted some cultures that we have seen out here. How many of us knew anything about "Thanksgiving day" celebrations back home. Even your dressing is not completely African. You have blended in one way or the other. That is what globalization has done. As long as migration from one nation to another continues, we will keep seeing different ethnic groups with various accents. But will we judge them by the sound of their accent or by what they can offer to improve the community? It is a constant challenge not just for lecturers trying to understand their students point of view but also for big multinationals trying to live up to their claim of being equal opportunity employers! Recent riots in some parts of the world have been on the lack of proper integration and understanding of cultures. People can not be seen as cheap labour assets or immigration cash! They want to be recognized for their ethnic differences and accepted as part of the society. They want to have good jobs and feel that they are not just statistics.

Above all, I am happy that there is one person that I do not have to worry when I am speaking …………God. He understands all accents. Sometimes, if all you can do is cry in different voice pitches, He needs no interpreter to understand you. I guess we should spend more time talking to Him then!

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Some "Nigerian" terms Blending
Biro Pen
Go slow Traffic
Okada Motorbike
Parlour Living room/sitting room
Waterproof/nylon bag Carrier/paper bag
Minerals Soft drinks
Errh Pardon/say that again please
Siiiiiii Hello, Excuse me
Exercise book Notebooks/writing pads
Watchman/Gateman Security
Green Spinach

Etc………Our Nigerian terms are fine in our environment, but it sounds strange to them out here.