“I fought my accent for so long,” Gadot says. “Like, I gotta sound more American. I was a little bit shy about my accent. Until I let it go. My dialect coach told me, ‘As long as you’re clear and understood, own it.’ And since I’ve started to own it, I feel free.”― Gal Gadot in GQ
What’s your first language?
Mine is Indonesian.
I was exposed to the English language when I was 6. Or maybe earlier, I’m not really sure because my mom was a kindergarten teacher and she always brought home some books in English from the library.
From the age of 6 to 18, I always had English classes at school. I also was enrolled in some courses here and there.
English was my favorite subject, for sure.
I was always fascinated by languages. Other than English, I’ve also (tried to) learn Mandarin, Spanish, German, and French. It’s always an exciting moment when you finally grasped a language’s grammar pattern. Or when you can recognize a word in a German online article. When you finally can consume content in a language you’re learning, it’s like opening a door to a new world.
But presenting your own ideas in your newly acquired language is a completely different animal.
I actually have written about this two years ago, in a Medium post. You can read it here. But it’s been two years, many things have changed, I now actually have earned a living from writing in English. So I decided to revisit this topic.
I have come a long way since then, but weirdly, I still got this impostor syndrome, this feeling that I’m not good enough, or that one day, someone would say that I’m not credible enough or I shouldn’t write in English anymore.
All this time, even after people complimented my writing, and have been impacted by my writing in some way, I still have those insecurities.
And I thought, this couldn’t be just me. I bet there are many people out there who feel this way. Maybe you are looking to get a job that requires you to speak or write in English, maybe you are now in that job. Or maybe you’re that fresh graduate that wants to get that scholarship abroad. That’s why I write this piece. To convince you that you’re good enough. To push you, just enough, for you to start feeling confident in your language abilities and start using the language to share your ideas.
Whatever the case may be, you feel this huge amount of self-doubt, questioning yourself along the way, is my English good enough? Will they understand me? Do I pronounce ‘awry’ correctly?
You then use these questions that popped up as an excuse to not take the next step.
When in fact, if looked at and assessed objectively, maybe you are more than capable to do the job.
First, the fact that you’re here, reading this post, is proof that you can understand English well enough.
I don’t know about you, but here, in Indonesia, we start learning English in primary school (at least that’s what happened in my school). So by the time we graduate high school, we would have learned English for 12 years. And as we all know, for the past decade, we’ve been immersed in English. Our phones, TV series, music. They’re all in English.
So, you should be proud of yourself for having learned enough English, well enough that it allows you to understand a simple article on the Internet. I’m sure your writing and pronunciation are also decent enough.
And please remember that language is a skill. It will get better with time, as long as you keep using it.
Second, understand that your accent doesn’t define the quality and the value of your ideas.
Your accent is like your handwriting. You wouldn’t stop writing down things just because your handwriting is bad, would you? People will still understand what you’re writing as long as it’s legible.
There are so many non-native English speakers that are successful without having to get that American or British accent (they’re not the only two English accents in the world, many countries in Africa and Asia have English as their national language, too). These people, even when you hear them talking this day, you can tell that they’re not a native speaker. And that’s okay. They’re still creating things, contributing to the world, despite their accent.
I used to shy away from speaking or writing in English, because I was insecure about how I would be perceived by the native speakers. But after I listened to Arianna Huffington speaking, or Tim Saulo from ahrefs, or Anne-Laure Le Cunff, or Gal Gadot(!), I realized that I shouldn’t stop speaking just because of my accent.
Your ideas are not bound by your pronunciation. Language is invented so that the speakers can communicate with each other. So as long as that purpose is fulfilled, you are free to do anything with the language. The language is the medium, not the message.
Lastly, the right people will accept you, your identity, and your ideas. Not because of your perfect pronunciation, but because your ideas are interesting and valuable.
Here’s an excerpt from the book Americanah, the moment when the main character, Ifemelu, stopped using her American accent and started using her own Nigerian accent. And she’s proud of it, because it showed where she came from. It showed her identity.
“Ifemelu decided to stop faking an American accent on a sunlit day in July, the same day she met Blaine. It was convincing, the accent. She had perfected, from careful watching of friends and newscasters, the blurring of the t, the creamy roll of the r, the sentences starting with “so,” and the sliding response of “oh really,” but the accent creaked with consciousness, it was an act of will. It took an effort, the twisting of lip, the curling of tongue. If she were in a panic, or terrified, or jerked awake during a fire, she would not remember how to produce those American sounds.”― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
If people don’t appreciate your writing or your speech, then it’s not you. It’s them. They are not open to new ideas, new perspectives that are coming from different backgrounds. It’s their loss, not yours.
I’ve worked for almost three years with people from different countries now, and they all think my English is more than enough for me to write a post in English, or for us to discuss work.
The bottom line is this: as non-native speakers of any language, we need to have trust in our ideas, try our best to convey them in the language, and let ourselves make mistakes once in a while.