Arianna Huffington’s story demonstrates clearly how learning a new language and cultural understanding can pave someone’s way to become one very successful businesswoman – with accent, despite accent.
Arianna Huffington is a Greece-borne American author, columnist and businesswoman. She was the founder of the most popular English language news website on the planet, The Huffington Post (now owned by AOL), and is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a health and wellness company, as well as the author of fifteen books.
Learning English was instrumental in Arianna Huffington’s life. She had the opportunity to study and learn English while growing up in Athens, Greece. This opened the door of Girton College in Cambridge, UK, where she studied economics and became president of the Cambridge Union. She ended up in the US, married an American, and has lived there ever since – yet, she still has a very distinctive accent.
For much of her life, she was self-conscious about it and even tried hard to change it and lose it.
In an interview, answering the questions what was her most embarrassing moment, she said: “Showing up at the Cambridge Union with a thick Greek accent. I gradually overcame the embarrassment (though I was less successful with the accent).”
Over time, she became more accepting of herself, chose to relax with her accent and just let it be.
I’m wondering: Why do we want to lose our accent? Is it really a desirable goal when learning a new language to speak it as accent-free as possible? If getting ourselves understood is the primary aim of learning a new language, why do we feel the need to lose or neutralise the accent?
I did a little research among clients, friends, acquaintances and on social media. Here are some of the most important points that were mentioned.
Why do people want to lose their accent?
- A desire to assimilate
- Out of respect to the people whose language one tries to master
- Negative associations with an accent (check the Trevor Noah video down below)
- A desire to climb and be recognised
Why do others stick to their accent or choose to relax about it?
- Insecurities, eg. “What would people back home think if they heard me talk that strange way.”
- Laziness, eg. “I can’t be bothered, as long as they understand what I’m trying to say, why would I torture myself with the almost impossible.”
- Identity issues eg. “If I give up my accent, I give up an integral part of me and my identity.”
- Confidence with oneself: An accent may reflect authenticity and confidence in who one really is, eg. “That’s me, that’s who I am, in fact, there is no other person in the world who speaks exactly like me and my value is not related to my accent.”
If you think your accent is holding you back in speaking the language you learn, just watch Arianna speak English in this video (and at the same time, pay attention to what’s being said, it’s an important message she’s conveying here):
She’s super comfortable in front of the camera, doesn’t care about her accent, in fact, she’s totally relaxed about it. But more to the point: She has something important to say, and people will listen.
In my opinion, there is something to like about the rich tapestry of accents. As long as they don’t interfere with the communication and understanding, they can add colour to conversations. Some native speakers even report that they find that a conversation with a person who has a heavy accent makes them very attentive because they are more carefully listening to what that person is conveying.
Now, I’d love to hear your perspective. How do you feel about accents? Are there certain accents that you like or dislike? If so, why?
If you speak a foreign language, have you ever struggled with feelings of insecurity because you were self conscious about your accent? Please leave a comment below with your take on the story.
Finally, to round this up, here’s a hilarious 5 minute stand-up by Trevor Noah – a must-watch, but do put your ear-phones in first if you’re in a shared office.