¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? Typical of a Spanish greeting. Yes, even I, the very epitome of Caucasian can speak Spanish. I probably speak it with something of a thick gringo accent, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone– except my somewhat frustrated Spanish teacher, and then that’s only sometimes.
I believe in accents. They tell about history and culture. They tell about a specific person as well as a whole society. They tell about life.
My father loves languages; he speaks Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese fluently. Its almost as though he absorbs them. When he immerses himself in a language he seems to absorb not only the language but also the cultural traces expressed in the language as well.
Accents not only tell us about what language someone speaks natively, but they teach us about their culture. My Spanish teacher in first grade had a Mexican accent. If she had not, then she would not have had a Mexican culture and she wouldn’t have taught me about her customs. I believe that accents allow us to experience different cultures and enrich and enlarge our own as well.
Through the accent of my teacher I was able to see her culture. The little nuances in the way she pronounced her words were no doubt part of a rich culture. Her accent gave me glimpses into that culture, a world I was a stranger to and could barely begin to comprehend at the tender age of six. I was able to better understand my teacher through her accent. Not just because Spanish makes more sense when you speak it correctly but also because I could understand her customs and idiosyncrasies to some extent better than I could before.
The way that I slaughtered my Spanish when I was little was my way of trying to comprehend this culture that was so perplexing and new to me. It was where my own beliefs and backgrounds intersected those of my teacher. When I spoke it was my own little culture coming out and somehow waging war on the other language and its culture. My culture was trying to take control in the form of my accent. The connection between the two cultures was reflected in my accent.
I would never have appreciated or have been able to believe there could be a connection between my culture and that of another culture without my teacher’s accent. Being exposed to her accent exposed me to her culture. This new and exciting exchange that I made with another culture as I patiently tried to learn Spanish led me to a new belief: the collision of cultures helps to shape my view of the world.
We need to experience our own Western culture in Beethoven and Shakespeare; however, we mustn’t be afraid to see the differences between ours and that of strangers such as Gandhi and Cervantes. I believe in allowing our cultures to collide with others, if only through our accents. This I believe.
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