Part of my job is to visit schools and give presentations about America (which so far has meant introducing a broad array of American facts and culture within 15 minutes). I can usually start with simple English like “Hello, nice to meet you! My name is Brittany. I am from America” and 5th and 6th graders will usually understand pretty well (though I can throw them off by saying I’m from the USA).

I had thought the warning was mostly aimed at ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers), but what everyone told me two months ago is true–the way I speak English is changing, and it’s making me self-conscious!

First of all, I now speak Japanese more often than I speak English, and when I speak English with people face to face, they’re usually accustomed enough to Japanese that I can get away with a few Japanese phrases here and there. When I was making a business phonecall to America last week, I noticed that I was throwing in Japanese fillers (“etou” instead of “um” or “let’s see”), and I can only imagine what the person on the other end was thinking if she picked up on it.

When I do speak English with non-native speakers, I find that I speak differently than when I would with other Americans. Besides just speaking slower and using simpler sentences, I think I might also be using strange intonation to differentiate the words…? (Or maybe studying tonal languages (which Japanese is not) has trained me to hear everything in tones?)

What really makes me self-conscious, however, is when I speak with other native speakers from other countries. You get used to saying “car park” instead of “parking lot”, but what throws me off is when people giggle about my American pronunciation. I’m not offended, I just never noticed it! I’m from Colorado, we’re too square to have accents! Don’t I speak proper, understandable Hollywood English!?

It will probably be funny to hear how much more my English changes (or degrades) after a year of being here. At least my Japanese will continue to improve, right…?

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