In the past 3 years that I've been hustling to get a placement on-air, I've been taking a lot of sucker punches over my accent. In fact, sucker punch is too soft a word to use. How about I've been knifed, axed and put through a garbage crusher over my accent. Honestly, I've had it with all these news directors and certain other people saying, "I hear a tinge of an accent." Well DUH!! I lived in Africa for 17 long years, Nigeria to be precise, so what else is expected. Perhaps I'm supposed to sound like I'm from California or something?
The most recent one that really really annoyed me was when a certain 'industry' someone who was supposed to be on my side and encouraging me told me to give up on the reporter dream and go for producing because he thinks that I don't sound like I have a good grasp of the English language. Hmh!?! Now you know I was livid upon hearing that but as much as I wanted to go ballistic, I had to hold my peace and ask for grace. Are you freaking kidding me? I DON'T HAVE A GOOD GRASP OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE? Do I sound like 'I don't have a good grasp of the English language?'. I probably have a higher vocabulary count that the person who told me that. How is someone who doesn't have a grasp of the English Language able to read the whole works of Shakespeare by junior high, get A's in English grammar, Literature and practically all my college essays, with the exception of the ones that I made 'intelligently' and 'independently' researched arguments, quite contrary to the professor's teachings (Yah!ITK--I too know). How is someone who doesn't have a good grasp of the English language able to read the adult versions of The Mayor of Casterbridge, Gulliver's Travels, Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre and the rest. I am talking about the ones without pictures, that have italic footnotes at the bottom. How does someone who read about 7-8 Mills & Boons, Nancy Drews and Sweet Valley Highs per day, which when calculated is an average of 1 per hour, factoring in sleep, school and study time as well, has read the AP Stylebook four times, and is into the fifth read at section-H, not have a good grasp of the English language? Hmh!?! How does someone who knew Brighter Grammar Book 1, 2 & 3 cover- to- cover, not forgetting Macmillan with Edet, Simbi and Ali, Path-To-Success and was the 'Grammar-Queen', pun very well intended, correcting everybody's' English up and down, including that of my English teacher mother and professor father, not have a good grasp of the English language. Let me not even start telling you about the ORIGIN of the damn English language. I mean seriously, If you don't know anything about Brighter Grammar, you better not tell me I don't have a grasp of the English language? As in Google that!!
The sad part is in reluctantly taking their advice and trying to sound more American; the more I try to fake the funk, the more ridiculous I sound because I am not comfortable speaking that way. It's like this, every body has a speech music pattern and when you introduce a new pattern you sound like a broken record. It is unnatural and sometimes that's how I feel about this whole thing. Plus having an accent has not stopped the likes of Jeff Koinange, Christian Amanpour and all those other television people with foreign accents from getting to the top. So why am I getting such a hard time, it is not like I sound like I am speaking Swahili or even German at that. My accent is beautiful just like many others that sound different to the American ears. It's going to be my signature one of these days. People in this country just need to get over this phobia they have about all things foreign. The audience will not break into a riot if they see an African girl who sounds African reporting the local news. As long as I sound articulate, understandable and speak proper English, that equal opportunity employment thingy should also be extended to me.
Anyways, bitching about it is not going to get me anywhere, so guess what? I actually ordered accent reduction training CD's from Amazon. Two sets. They cost me about $50 and that s*** better be worth my hard earned cash. They want me to sound American? Fine. If that will pay the bills then so be it, they'll get American all right.
Henceforth, there shall me no more Nigerian movies for me, and if you know your accent is equally as jacked up as mine, Biko, Please, Jo n'tori Oloun, do not come and talk to me without trying to speak through your nose as well, because I will 'chin-your-paks.' I will only make limited exception with Church and Family. So all my other telephone-buddies, ya'll better get with the program and not try to mess up my flow. If I begin to sound funny at least you'll understand why. My own case is different because there is a purpose for it. This just reminds me of when I had to get rid of that tinge of British accent I had way back when, because everyone was asking me where I got that from. I thought about it and was like, Ok I've never been to London, my parents are not British and I don't know any Englishman so where the hell did I get the British accent from and why the hell do I sound that way in the first place. Television. It felt very unauthentic so I had to flip the script sharply, so now I just sound confused. As one guy put it, like a cross between a Jamaican accent and a very very bad British accent. You wanna know what I say to that? Piss off!!
Anyways here are the titles of the accent reduction kits I got in case anyone out there is going through the same thing as I am, would like to work or improve on your speech or even get your children to learn 'American' (like it's a language). I am sure there are others out there with the British accent and I bet those would be more fun to work with because I do prefer the British accent to the American accent; it has a melody to it. For those of you who want to sound Nigerian just go to the nearest African food store and pick up a copy of a 'Nollywood' production. You'll start sounding Nigerian by the time you get to the fifth VCD. Trust Me.
'Accent Reduction Made Easy' by Jane Wellborn, $19.95
'American Accent Training' by Ann Cook $39.95