“Barely speaks English”

I always marvel at how and why Americans and Canadians seem to think they speak proper English, or “English without an accent.” First of all, in case anyone needs a history lesson…. English, surprise surprise, comes from… ENGLAND. And second of all, American accented English still has an accent, as does Canadian accented English (let’s stay away from the regional accents for this conversation). We ALL have accents. It’s just that some may be easier or harder for you to understand given your own accent.

I was sitting on a Zoom 1:1 call with one of my Canadian colleagues, who I’ve gotten along with quite well. He’s a White male and is stereotypically Canadian in his accents (his “abouts” sound just as you’d imagine) and his politeness/friendliness. And out of nowhere, he started venting to me about how a new colleague on my team started, and he cannot believe my boss made the decision to assign her to one of his large accounts. “I mean, she’s new and she barely speaks English!” he complained to me. “Her written English is fine, but it’s so, so difficult to understand what she is saying during calls. Customers barely understand her. You know I’m a nice guy, but this is just ridiculous. You and Sabrina have been great at your jobs; you are so eloquent, you present so well. I need someone like you on this account.”

What he really means when he says “someone like you” is someone who speaks English with a Canadian/British/American accent. What he really means to say is that he doesn’t like the new colleague on my team, who was born and raised in Mexico up until she was 13 and who speaks English with a Mexican accent. What he means is that unless you speak Canadian/British/American accented English, your English is unacceptable and you “barely” even speak the English language. What he means to say is that he’s unaccepting of people who come from non-Western cultures who learn to speak English as a second language with the accent of whatever their first learned language was, and that if you speak with said accent that you no longer sound professional in front of enterprise customers who are spending a large sum of money with our company.

What I would like to know is: if HE were to speak another language, what accent would HE have, and how accepted would HE be by said country’s people? The complete lack of empathy for those who learn English as a second language infuriates me all the time, especially when I know English is the only language I am fully literate and fluent in. I really feel for those who learn English as second language because there is really nothing consistent or constant about it (no four tones like in Mandarin Chinese; not everything rhymes with a/i/u/e/o/n like in Japanese), and there are so many slangs and colloquialisms that even if you have studied English for 20+ years, you still won’t know it all.

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