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Dilemma - Disowned Heidi

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May 9th, 2009


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06:59 pm - Dilemma
One of my students has a thick inner-city accent. This is going to hold him back in life, no question. It would be nice if people didn't discriminate, but they do. He is nice, polite, and hard-working... doesn't matter. His accent marks him.

How do I delicately go about referring him to the speech services? I'm trying to figure out who his adviser is. I hope his adviser can do this instead of me.

I guess I'm also worried that I'd be accused of discrimination or being insulting or something. But really, no one has done this kid any favors by letting him get this far without speaking "Standard American English". If this kid wants to be taken seriously when he gets out, and have access to a wider range of opportunities, he needs to learn to speak the standard dialect.

What are your thoughts?

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:paladyn
Date:May 9th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
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I am assuming by "thick inner-city" accent you mean he speaks in the American Ghetto dialect.

He needs to want to change the way he speaks. He needs to realize that talking like Tupac is not going to get him very far in life. You and the school system are not in a position to modify without opening yourself to serious ACLU type issues. If this was 40 years ago you could beat the vocab into him, nowadays they are all about hugs and fucking empowerment and embracing diversity.
[User Picture]
From:disownedheidi
Date:May 10th, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
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They actually have an accent reduction program AT the University where I teach.

I don't think the kid would sue me. I don't think he is talking like Tupac on purpose, either. He's not the defiant type, not at all. He's working really hard to succeed in College. He comes to office hours. He does all the work. He wants to do well, which is why I think he might be open to it if it were suggested.

I honestly think he doesn't know better. I want to make him aware that it is a problem... he didn't quite understand how to hack it in College, either, and I helped him out a little bit. I do think he is clueless. He is a really good kid. I don't want to fuck him over by not giving him the tools he needs to succeed... but I also don't want to get in trouble.
[User Picture]
From:nepenthe01
Date:May 10th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
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So tough - I don't know how you could bring it up. You know, having a Southern accent also affects how people think of you - but one wouldn't expect a Southerner to go to speech services.

I think it's quite OK to have different accents and ways of speaking for different situations and cultures and people. There ought to be a way to convey that it's OK to talk one way with your friends and family, and change your diction and grammar when you're giving a speech or writing a paper. Do you grade his papers? The only way I could see it getting through sensitively is to mark things and write "Acceptable for colloquial speech - not acceptable in formal writing."
[User Picture]
From:stillking
Date:May 10th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
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Do not touch this "problem". The factors (perceptual, societal, educational, etc.) are too subtle and complex and subjective for a trouble-free fix. Further, some possibility exists of doing more harm than good.

-- Sven
From:ashoe
Date:May 10th, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
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You could make it a general comment as part of a conversation about accents, not directed to any one person.

"Not everybody speaks French the same way, remember that if you're traveling. There are regional accents that change the way words sound, and the expressions wont' always be the same, just like we have here, in English. I grew up outside of Boston, and there are some amazing accents there. Ever seen "Good Will Hunting?" I knew a couple of people who had that one, but when they got older they went to classes to learn what we call 'standard american english', since a strong accent can really get in your way when trying to land a job. It's terrible that people discriminate, but in the working world, it does happen. We actually have an accent reduction program right here at school, it's really interesting if anyone wants to check it."

I think it's good to at least let the kids know that discrimination exists, and that you can take steps to avoid it, but don't single anyone out or give any special advice. Just give them the information and let them decide what to do with it. It IS good to let them know there's a program on hand, though. My husband taught himself to suppress a southern accent, and we both agree it's probably helped him in dealing with the white collar world.

Plus, it IS interesting, accents and speech, and the perception of people based on how they speak, is fascinating stuff, and I don't think it would be out of place to mention it in a language class.

~a


[User Picture]
From:disownedheidi
Date:May 10th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
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Classes are over, but that speech would have been awesome, actually... maybe I'll find a way to give it right before the final.
From:ashoe
Date:May 10th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
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you could do it as a sort of 'sum up', end of class, go forth and prosper kind of thing. You know, 'Make ALL your languages work for you, and be aware of language's role in culture and the working world', that kind of thing.
[User Picture]
From:nepenthe01
Date:May 10th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
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That's funny - I just wrote about the Southern thing in my response.

I actually find Southern accents comforting.....Worked with quite a few when I was consulting (as we had a sales office in Atlanta.) But they may have already modified it so it was only a slight accent.

I admit that the Massachusetts' accents can affect my judgement of people. It sounds very parochial, like the person has never left Massachusetts. & I'm one to talk - I've never lived more than 2 hours away from where I was born - but with parents from Ohio and Western PA, I have a mixed up accent that reads fairly standard american.
From:ashoe
Date:May 10th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
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I like the hint of drawl that my husband allows himself, but apparently, that's not the 'real thing' that he'd have if he spoke like the rest of his family. He explained that all sorts of words would have multiple syllables or be totally unrecognizable to me.

"da-awg" (dog) and "bee-ad" (bed), and "poosh" (push)

We're in the Northern New Jersey, not far from NYC now, and I agree that he'd run into some trouble, and a lot of irritating comments, if he spoke like that! The occasional y'all is fine, and the 'ma'ams' are downright charming, but much beyond that would probably be more of a nuisance for him.
[User Picture]
From:badseed1980
Date:May 11th, 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
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You are not the one to bring it up.

Even if it seems silly, it will sound racist if you say this.
[User Picture]
From:disownedheidi
Date:May 11th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
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Of course it will sound racist. That's why there is a dilemma. It fucking sucks. It turns out it is pretty much impossible to find out who the student's advisor is. It's confidential.

And of course I'm not going to sound racist.

So bottom line, this kid is going to suffer, and not learn what he needs to learn, because everyone is too timid to point this out to him.

This fucking sucks. And we wonder why there is a learning gap... this is why.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 11th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
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You could start by taking your frustrations out in song ("Why can't the Americans teach their children how to speak?"). After this you may feel free to make a wager with your life-long bachelor friend, the colonel, that you can teach this man how speak proper English. It's a fool-proof plan.
[User Picture]
From:paladyn
Date:May 12th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
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He needs to discover this on his own. The he takes the initiative and makes the effort to change the way he speaks.

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