I am originally from India where English is not the primary medium of spoken communication. This blog post addresses common issues that Indian migrants face while communicating in English, and in particular with the Australian accent and the lingo.
Firstly, since English is not our first language, our brain is conditioned to think in our mother tongue. When we speak in English, we basically form a sentence in our brain in our mother tongue (it could be Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati etc.), translate it into English, and then say it. Since this is our normal flow, we tend to get conscious of our pace of delivery, and compensate for it by speaking fast(er).
Secondly, since most of us learn English as a second language, we learn it along with the influences of our native language(s). For example, phonetically the “T” sound (Devnagri: ट) or the “D” sound (ड or ड़) that we learn in India, is very different from the actual English language sounds. The same is true about the “P” (प), the “B” (ब) and the “C/K” (क) sounds. Similarly, our sentence constructs too are influenced by our mother tongue. (Saying “You are going?” instead of “Are you going?”). This is commonly known as Mother Tongue Interference (MTI).
The subcontinental accent is definitely well accepted in Australia. A great example is Masterchef Australia 2018 winner Sashi Cheliah, who speaks with a strong South-Indian/ Singaporean accent.
More than the accent, speaking in English is about how clearly you express yourself. I do not advocate “faking” an accent – you get noticed too easily. However, I strongly recommend neutralizing your accent – especially Indian accents which have strong “Mother Tongue Interference”. I believe that if you want to learn to write well, then spend time in reading good books. Similarly, if you want to learn how to speak well, then spend time in listening to a lot of good content. Mind you, it’s a slow and gradual process.
Understand grammar and sentence structure
This comes with extensively reading English text and listening to English content. With frequently reading English and listening to English content, you slowly condition your brain to construct your thoughts in the English language.
Inculcate a habit of using correct English grammar
Expose yourself to a lot of English content, and make a habit of “thinking in English”. The more aware you are about how your brain constructs English sentences, the less challenging it will ultimately be for you. Once your brain starts “identifying” specific constructs, make conscious efforts to actually speak the correct English grammar.
Inculcate a habit of using correct phonetics
The more you listen to English content, the more you will identify the subtle difference between the sounds of “पी” and “P”. The Australian accent is very distinct from other flavours of the English language. With continued exposure to English content and with practice, you will start identifying the subtle nuances.
Do not be afraid to experiment with neutralizing your accent!
Initially, using the correct phonetics might make you uncomfortable and you might at times be ridiculed by your peers. But do not shy away from speaking English in a different manner. Remember, this is the first step towards neutralizing your accent.
Often while speaking English, we tend to speak very fast, often due to anxiety or lack of confidence. Effective communication is all about being clear while expressing your thoughts. And speaking fast does not help! Make sure that while communicating in English, you speak at a pace that is not too fast.
Finally, how to learn the ‘Strayan accent?
Listen. Listen. And listen more! I recommend listening to radio talk shows. Radio show hosts often speak the most “Australian” English that you would ever get to listen. Moreover, their speech is full of commonly used Aussie slang and phrases. I also recommend watching Australian TV shows – shows like Today Tonight or 60 Minutes for the language constructs and phonetics; and talk shows like Have You Been Paying Attention for a dose of Australian accent and some unique Aussie lingo.
The Australian accent has a lot of nuances which are near impossible to master for someone who has not grown up in Australia. And our own way of speaking English does make us unique. However, understanding MTI and inculcating proper phonetics will surely help in a big way to neutralize your accent.