English – Which accent is better? (And the Korean actress who made fun of the Filipino English.)

5 Nov

There has been a recent commotion online (at least among Filipinos, particularly Filipino English teachers) due to a video clip circulating in cyberspace about how this certain Korean actress, Lee Da Hae, apparently insulted the English skills of Filipinos in one of the shows of KBS. (KBS already pulled out all the videos in youtube, claiming copyrights although we all know that they just want to save Lee Da Hae’s ass.)

I was able to watch it and even though the show was in Korean, they flashed the flags of USA, UK and the Philippines, enough for non-Korean speaking viewers to understand that they were talking about these 3 countries. Lee Da Hae, who as claimed speaks English well as she stayed in Australia for 5 years to study, tried talking or mimicking English teachers from the different countries mentioned above as requested by the hosts. She was asked to say “Excuse me. I’m a little bit thirsty. Can I have a glass of water please?”  First was the American, which to me, (I am not American though) doesn’t sound American, but the pronunciation was okay… the accent was neutral. Second, apparently was a British accent, and again, it doesn’t sound too British to me (I know this because I have a British friend who I talk to almost everyday since 2006), except on how she pronounced the word “water”, omitting the ‘r’ in the end. Then finally, the Filipino way, which turned out to be, yes I have to say, insulting because we don’t speak English that way. I think she intends to be funny, but some Filipinos didn’t find it amusing at all.

With the strong influence of the West to the Philippines, particularly the USA, which can be traced almost 100 years back, Filipinos speak English either the same as the native speakers or at least in a neutral accent. While I won’t deny that some Filipinos have regional accent due to their dialects spoken in their hometowns, I would say, a majority of Filipinos do speak English well.

But which accent really is better? The argument on which English accent is better is never ending. I heard some claiming American English is better as it is easier to understand. To others, it is the British English. And more than once, I even heard some people from the UK sarcastically asked, “What American English? Is there such a thing?” For most Filipinos who (even though I hate to say this, but this is the truth) have this ‘Everything American’ attitude (thanks to the Western influence and the ever growing call center industry that killed the patriotism of the present generation), being able to speak English like the Americans is essential as it is considered (at least in our society) as a status symbol. They feel as though speaking like the Americans somehow put them in the (imaginary) pedestals. It is as if they are superior to those who know little or can’t speak the language.

Filipinos are also known as the English grammar Nazis, particularly those who are living in the major cities. (I have to admit, I am sometimes, okay most of the time, a grammar Nazi myself, however I make sure that I don’t offend others when I try to correct them.) Yet, despite of that, Filipinos still have flaws in their English skills, often in pronunciation and grammar and so are the native speakers of English. I mean, who doesn’t commit grammar mistakes? All of us do. Who hasn’t mispronounced words? We all have.

This actually reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend’s wife after I posted a hot picture of Cristiano Ronaldo in my facebook account (Yes, that one you can see above! :P) during the height of World Cup 2010. She asked me if I have seen the Castrol ad of him. That time, I haven’t and asked her jokingly, ‘Why? Is he also looking hot in that ad?” She answered, “Actually, it’s not about that. It’s when he talked. It was the worst English accent that I have ever heard.” And I was like, ‘Duh?! He is Portuguese. What do you expect? It’s not his native language.’ I found her comment so annoying. Of course for a person whose first language isn’t English, would you expect him to speak so well and with all that phony accent? Come on! I actually like the way he speaks English in his accent and I think it makes him sexier. 😀

Seriously, why are people so crazy about the accent? And going back to my question, so “Which English accent is better?” Or is there such a thing as a “better English accent?” I don’t think so. Accent is influenced by geographical location of the person. An Italian can speak English with that distinct accent because it is influenced by their native language, which is Italian and it is spoken differently. A Filipino, whose first language is Filipino (the prestige register of the Tagalog language according to Wiki and is influenced by the Spanish language) also pronounces some English words different from the American English. I, for one, usually mispronounces the word ‘comfortable’, putting the stress in the wrong syllable, thus resulting to my bf M (well ex now) always correcting me. It’s because in Filipino, the word is pronounced differently.

They said American English is good and the accent is somehow easier to understand. The trainers in the call center industry aim to have the trainees speak the American way (or at least that was the scenario a few years ago, because I think gone are the days when you have to speak in their twang in order to land a job in a call center.) Others said, British English is better because that is the ‘REAL English’ and it is sophisticated. Well, as my British friend would say, POSH! 😀  I think the reason most of us give high regards to the American and British English is because of our “everything-foreign-attitude.” Most of us, Filipinos and others from non-English speaking countries desperately want to sound like the natives, with all that accent.  But it’s their language. We have our own too and we should speak better in our own languages than the foreign ones. I think what really matter is that we are able understand them and that we can be understood.

Going back to Lee Da Hae. She already released a statement denying that she made fun of Filipino English Teachers and even apologized through her twitter account. Some Filipinos (teachers or not) didn’t find her statement convincing. Unfortunately for her, some Filipinos do speak and understand Korean, enough for them to tell that she indeed made fun of us. That’s too sad because she also claimed to have studied English over the phone with a Filipino teacher.

I don’t really want to get serious about this whole “Lee Da Hae insulting Filipinos” issue.  Because well, I do know that it’s not true. Filipinos speak English well and not in that accent. (Come on, why would thousands and thousands of Koreans go to the Philippines every year to study English  if they don’t think we speak English well?) However, I reacted via this blog post because it made me think why people are so crazy about acquiring American or British accent. Please tell me, why?

* * *

(To the grammar Nazis, pardon my English. =P)

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5 Responses to “English – Which accent is better? (And the Korean actress who made fun of the Filipino English.)”

  1. lovelyu November 6, 2010 at 2:21 am #

    Dear writer, do you know that Lee Da Hae didn’t mention about your country at all, she said South East Asia (if you can understand Korean)-only the host saying it, but he also said SEA.

    • y November 7, 2010 at 7:32 am #

      Hi there lovelyu! Thanks for dropping by. Well, I don’t know Korean language well, although I understand a few words for teaching English to Koreans for 3 years. I didn’t exactly understand what Lee Da Hae and the hosts said in the video clip, however like you also mentioned, the host mentioned about my country’s name and also flashed a Philippine flag on screen.I think, the initial reaction of most Filipinos, (condemning Lee Da Hae) is just normal. I don’t know where you are from, but how would you feel if you see your flag and your country’s name being mentioned as the people in the tv program mockingly mimics a certain ‘accent’ and laughs afterward? You know, like I wrote in my post above, I don’t really want to get serious about this whole Lee Da Hae issue insulting us. First because I very well know that we Filipinos do not speak that way. It sounded more of Korean English to me (or other SEA countries). I don’t really want to pay attention to her, because I don’t really care about her really. But after the commotion she caused, it made me think about which English accent is better and why people (including my own people) mocks others’ accent. It made me think which Accent is better or if there is such a thing as better English accent. That triggered me to come up with this blog post. But it’s not merely about Lee Da Hae. It’s actually about the English accent and how people can be so crazy about it. 🙂

    • chesie November 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

      Hello lovelyu, while it is true that Lee Da Hae did not mention the country’s name, the host asked her about the Philippine/Filipino accent when talking in English. Naturally, one would produce a specific answer to a question regarding the topic (ie. Filipino Accent) and not generally about the accent of the SE Asians. Since SEA is comprised of a lot of different countries with entirely different languages, imitating a SEA accent would be difficult. Also, based on the time it took for her to react and mimic the accent, which was quite short, it seems to me that at the back of her mind, she’s always thought of the Filipinos having that accent when talking in English.

  2. marc d. kun November 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    kudos to you mate. well said.. *applause*

    • y November 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

      thank you Marc! 🙂

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