My mother is adorable. She’s lived in the US for over 35 years now. She has authored, edited or translated a half-dozen books — in English! But she still sends me e-mails with lines like this, in her recipe for Japanese curry, from ten minutes ago:

“In the same flying pan, add some more oil and quickly fly carrot, potato, onion, diced; and pepper, salt (other veggie, such as cerery, is also good; a bay leaf if you have one).”

Frying pan, mom. Frying pan! Celery!

I don’t know why, but it’s this kind of thing that endears me to my family the most, tugs at my heartstrings. The perfectly normal and understandable behavior that just happens to play into silly stereotypes (belly solly, sah!) even as it makes me slap my forehead. It’s not like I think confusing the English letters “r” and “l” is some kind of problem or deficit — after all, most of you probably can’t pronounce ryu, the word for dragon in Japanese. (And yes, the name of the guy from the Street Fighter series.)

Maybe it’s because it reminds me of when I was a kid and I had to proofread her galleys for little slip-ups like these. Maybe it’s because it’s just an essential part of the second-generation immigrant experience. You’re a kid, you’re an American because you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and saying “duh, dookie brains.” And you’re kind of embarrassed sometimes, around some other people, that your folks talk funny or eat weird food. But you’re proud too, even if you don’t realize it. And then you grow up, and realize a lot more about what it all means and how it’s part of who you are.

I’m sure you all have stories too.

Hmm, should I post the whole recipe? It might be a family secret, but the secret mostly seems to have to do with the weird crap she throws in at the end. OK… it’s behind the cut!

OK, here’s the recipe, slightly edited by me as is our tradition.

Tanaka Curry
1. Get some beef — not the good, expensive parts, but with some fat mixed in. Pork is OK too. Cut into cubes, salt and pepper generously, and fry in oil until the surface gets slightly brown. Transfer to a pan, a deep heavy one is the best.

2. In the same pan, quickly fry carrots, potatoes, and onions, diced; and salt, pepper. Other veggies, such as celery, are also good, and a bay leaf if you have one.

3. Put them all in a deep pot and add water until the stuff is barely submerged.

4. Cook for at least one hour. Longer depending on how much you’re making, but until the meat is tender. Longer at lower heat is better! Occasionally scoop out (and throw away) the white foam that comes up to the surface.

5. A half hour before it’s done, add cubes of curry roux. Shave it in with a knife and add more later if it doesn’t get thick, but don’t use too much. You can save it.

6. Season to taste. For my mom, this means some ketchup, sugar or honey, worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of sake or wine, and a dab of soy sauce.

7. Garnish with pickled vegetables, raisins, fried shallot/garlic flakes, or grate cheese on top!

That’s right, folks. The main flavoring ingredient in Japanese curry is… CUBES OF CURRY MIX THAT YOU CAN BUY AT YOUR ASIAN GROCERY. This is how most Japanese people make curry unless it’s some fancy curry, because curry is junky comfort food in Japan. It’s basically not that different than garam masala spices mixed with oil and flour.

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51 comments for “Accents

  1. December 2, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I know what you mean! My mother’s Swedish and having been married to a Brit for 38 years there are still some things she says which are completely Swedish!!! :) As for me and my sisters, having grown up all over and spread our wings all around Europe and Asia, we all have accents in every language we speak (including our native English and Swedish).

    Accents are fun and they are a real part of who we are. My gf has a lovely Austrian accent when she speaks English and she’s always complaining about it. I think it’s just lovely, it’s who she is and I wouldn’t want her to lose it.

    As for the Japanese curry recipe, yes please… I love Japanese curries! :)

  2. December 2, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Well, if you don’t post the recipe, could you at least email it to me? ;-)

    Do you ever read Postcards From Yo Momma? ( It’s hilarious and (lovingly) reminds me of my mom’s written quirks, especially over email or IM (which she also calls “emailing”).

    And this isn’t about my own parents, but when I was a nanny in Italy there were a lot of humerous linguistic exchanges. My favorite was when we were discussing food, and the dad I worked for started talking about how much he loved to eat ostriches. He asked me if I had ever tasted ostrich, and I said no. He continued on, saying that his wife hated ostriches, but he loved them — “I could eat 20 ostriches in one sitting if you gave them to me! I think I have eaten more than 20 before. I love them!” I must have been giving him a very strange look, because he looked confused — “What? 20 ostriches aren’t that many.” I finally asked him the word for Ostrich in Italian. He said ostriche — in English, oyster. I explained that Ostrich in English is the really big bird, and we all had a good laugh.

    Second-funniest was during a movie we were watching, when one of the characters referred to a party as a “boob buffet.” I was asked to translate — “What is a boob buffet?” Not really thinking about it, I gestured to my chest and said, “Well, boobs are… these.” And the dad of the family exclaims, “Oh! Tits!” To which I had to say, well, yes, but maybe that’s not the word you want to use in casual conversation…

    And then there are all the times where I’ve been the one with the language issue — I spent 20 minutes once asking a teller at a Barcelona train station for a lawyer (I don’t even remember what I was trying to ask for in the first place, but “abogado” was not the right word). Luckily she was very kind to me, even though I’m sure she thought I was nuts.

    Not exactly accent-related, but still linguistic stories that warm my heart.

  3. December 2, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Word. Word.

  4. December 2, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    My whole family is from the South and they still say things I don’t understand (I’m the only one raised above the Mason-Dixon). When I was little my dad used to ask me to shut the sliding glass door, but what he said was, “Lauren, will you pull that door to?” and I always thought, “To where? Open or closed?” and would stand there like an idiot until he did it himself.

  5. mamab
    December 2, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Other things Southerners say:

    “I’m fixin’ to do…”

    “Trim the pencil”” instead of sharpen

    Also, I once had a Chinese student in my Montessori pre-school class and when I told her to stick her paper in her folder (meaning to take the just reviewed paper and put it in her folder), she looked at me and asked, “What do you want me to stick it with?”

  6. luzzleanne
    December 2, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    My dad was the third generation on one side and at least the fourth on the other, but he still goes completely Polish on some words that are well known enough to have been anglicized already. Pierogi is the first one that comes to mind. Given, in this case he’s usually the only one in the conversation pronouncing it correctly, but it’s still kind of strange to hear him go straight from typical American English to the rolled R sound that I can’t make.

    If we were going for general language, we could probably talk about Pittsburghese, too. When I’m away from home I spend large parts of my life trying to remember to not say things like “gum band” and “shopping buggy.”

  7. clea
    December 2, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    My mom still has a very heavy German accent, but none of my sisters (nor I) do. When I was in 4th grade, a friend called my house and after my mom picked up and handed me the phone, my friend asked if that was my maid. Nope! She still answers the phone as “ja?” and I love that she hasn’t completely tried to assimilate. She’s also a green card holder, no citizenship thank you very much!

  8. Bagelsan
    December 2, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    When my friend was in middle school she went to sleep over at the house of a classmate with German parents. In the morning they woke up and the neighbor’s dad very kindly offered to make breakfast. “Do you like crap?” he asked her. “I’ll make some crap.”

    By the time he started cooking she had figured it out, and was able to say with confidence that yes, she loved crepes.

  9. December 2, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    My father in law still says “orts.”

    As in, he orts to go fill up his gas tank, you orts to finish the rest of the green beans! (ought) VERY North Georgia. Nobody else in the family says that, so I think it’s fading out.

    I first heard this pronunciation in the old country song, Good Ole Mountain Dew: He thought that I ought/just to sell him a quart. It was written to rhyme, but just reading the lyrics, they don’t rhyme unless you are from the place the song is from.

    Also southern: Carry you somewhere, rather than “take” or drive. (Grateful Dead: Won’t you carry me/back to Tennessee)

    Loaf bread. Isn’t it ALL a loaf? (Loaf-bread means specifically, that it is already cut into slices)

    Midwestern: shut out the light. Southern: cut off the light. Everywhere else: turn the light off.

    Some southerners also use the reverse of cut off, which is cut on–“Cut on the TV”

    And my special favorite, a drop-cord. (Extension cord) The first time I heard it, I thought they were telling me my lamp needed a special cord to drop from the ceiling, or something.

  10. December 2, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Do you ever read Postcards From Yo Momma

    Oh god yes! How could I have forgotten that site. Very apropos.

    She’s also a green card holder, no citizenship thank you very much!

    My mom too! She got about as far as realizing that the citizenship oath has all sorts of stuff about bearing arms and performing noncombatant service for the US Armed Forces, and resolved to never be a US citizen.

    I added the recipe to the end of the post!

  11. December 2, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    My mom is Cuban, so I can relate to this post :) She pronounces chaos like “chouse” and tangy like “tanjee”….among others. I love it.

  12. December 2, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I am Bulgarian and have been living in the States, on and off, for the past 9 years. Even still, I get “toes” and “fingers” mixed up. Cracks my husband up. I frown when he laughs and they laugh with him.

  13. December 2, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    HA! I’m yonsei (4th-generation Japanese-American), which means my mom mostly cooked ‘American’ food but the Japanese dishes she did make were the real comfort food dishes like curry (and of course, we had rice with everything). When I moved out on my own and asked her how to make Japanese curry, I was so disappointed that there was no family recipe – she just showed me the box!

  14. Kai
    December 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, Holly! I’ve found that East Asians usually use to pre-mixed curries while Southeast and South Asians are more likely to cook them up from scratch. Which makes sense when you think about where the various spices come from. I was particularly intrigued with the way your mom finishes the dish! First she goes for classic East Asian balancing of pungent with sweet and acidic notes, then takes it into really exotic terrain with the raisins, garlic/shallot flakes, and cheese! Wow. Interesting. I also appreciate the novel use of ketchup as a sweeneter and emulsifier in a curry sauce. Neato.

    Of course thanks also for the overall story and sentiment. You can probably guess that I definitely relate. I have so many language stories I can’t even begin, having grown up speaking Mandarin, French, and English (in Canada, US, France, and China). My family is still prone to using all 3 of those languages at the dinner table; which sometimes confuses folks, especially in French restaurants where the staff somehow always seems surprised to discover that we understand their chatter and order in French. And it’s funny how email puts a fresh spin on accents. My father sounds very formal like a Confucian tea-sipping scholar in email, while my mother is all over the place and heavily accented, like she might wack you with a fly swatter. Referring back to Jill’s post on children’s songs, I’m still likely to well up with throat-lumpy emotion when I hear the Chinese lullabies my mother sang me all those years ago, as I walk past a buzzy radio in an alleyway in China or something. In fact sometimes just hearing Chinese alters my state of consciousness and my mind just feels different. And less confined. Like throwing off soiled clothes.

    Anyway, good to see you posting and commenting, Holly. Feels needed. ;-)


  15. December 2, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    my parents are romanian; my mother’s first language is Romanian but she was raised in Montreal, and my dad ran away from Communist Romanian when he was in his early 30s. so i say things because of them like ‘close/open the light,’ ‘have you eaten the broccolis?,’ etc which gives everyone i know a good laugh. but yeah, i say it because of how my parents talk.

    i don’t even hear my mom’s accent, and thus don’t hear many eastern-european accents. i’ve been told a few times things like ‘yeah so that guy we met last night was lituanian…’ ‘really?! born in the US, right?’ ‘no, immigrated… his accent was rather strong.’ ‘….’

    all my friends have experienced my parents cussing out other drivers in Romanian for 10 minutes at a time. :-P

  16. December 2, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I have to admit that the raisins and garlic flakes and cheese were all things that my sister and I started sticking in when we were kids — although the fancy Japanese curry places in New York are offering those toppings now too!

    I totally know what you mean about the altered state of consciousness stuff! Like a madeleine dipped in tea, hah.

  17. December 3, 2008 at 12:41 am

    My mum is Puerto Rican (well I am too but we moved when I was 3), has been bilingual since childhood, but still sometimes mixes up English idioms, or will say a Puerto Rican idiom in English and my brother and I will give her a “whuh?” look and then crack up when she’s like, “What? You don’t have that in English?”

  18. Alison
    December 3, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Japanese curry is the best!! My ex taught me to make it and for that (and maybe a few other things) I’ll always be grateful to him. Plus, I’m vegetarian so I loved that it was such a hearty, filling dish with just the curry sauce and veggies (over rice of course!).

    You know, I hope this doesn’t make me sound dense, but I honestly had no idea that the L and R switching could happen in print too. I thought it was just a pronunciation thing, because of the ambiguity between the sounds in their language.

  19. Katie
    December 3, 2008 at 1:43 am

    I love all the ways my mom’s particular Koreanness comes out, though I didn’t always. I remember being horrified when she’d eat the pizza crusts that my friends left on their plates, but also, because of her teaching, being horrified at how much food other families wasted. Her accent has morphed into something very different from the usual Korean accent, and some people think she is German over the phone. There is always a part of me that derives a little joy from her writing voice, as it is sometimes very stilted and sometimes just kind of off, but always funny and uniquely her.

    I’ve been reading this website called recently, and I find it hilarious. It’s a lot of people of Asian descent who send in their moms’ emails. There’s a sense in which it’s kind of problematic, but I also see it as a tremendously loving mockery, and I get a lot of pleasure from it.

  20. December 3, 2008 at 1:47 am

    My whole family is from the South and they still say things I don’t understand (I’m the only one raised above the Mason-Dixon). When I was little my dad used to ask me to shut the sliding glass door, but what he said was, “Lauren, will you pull that door to?” and I always thought, “To where? Open or closed?” and would stand there like an idiot until he did it himself.

    That’s interesting, because a very similar regional trait that my Dad uses, “Putt’ door to”, is a northern dialect term in England! Dad retains a strong Northern accent despite living in the south of the UK for many decades now, and I have picked up a few of the terms. My favourites are “‘appen” (which is like “perhaps”, or maybe even “God willing”) and “sithee” (literally “see thee” – as in “look here”, or perhaps, “do you see?” in both cases in the literal sense of seeing with the eyes as opposed to “do you understand?”) I also have a tendency to use the Yorkshire sense of “us” in the first person, the way Dad does: e.g. “canst tha giv us a hand wi’ these boxes?” means “can you give me a hand with these boxes”.

    Dad tells of his first time at university, at the introductory lecture he was at the back and having a hard time hearing and understanding the lecturer, so he bellowed out, “Canst tha spee-ack oop a bit?” (i.e. “can you speak up a bit”) – it actually worked very well because the lecturer had to get help understanding the dialect English.

    will say a Puerto Rican idiom in English and my brother and I will give her a “whuh?” look and then crack up when she’s like, “What? You don’t have that in English?”

    I’ve had a similar “whuh?” reaction using Anglo-English idioms when talking online to USAian friends! And I have exactly the same response, “What? You don’t have that term in American English?”

  21. December 3, 2008 at 3:12 am

    There have been some really similar posts over at Pregnant Drug-Dealing Prostitutes lately.

  22. fatsweatybetty
    December 3, 2008 at 4:21 am

    Kind of a non-accent story…
    My mother is Filipino, born and raised in California. My grandfather has been in the US for about fifty years but he still has a thick accent and replaces all /f/ sounds with /p/ sounds, as many Tagalog-speakers do. My mother, however, doesn’t speak Tagalog and has no foreign accent whatsoever. Yet when she went to visit my dad’s hometown in backwoods southern Ohio, her “accent” just about made some guy’s head explode. She went into a gas station and asked the attendant a few questions, at which point he stared at her wide-eyed and marveled, “You speak English good!” He was absolutely amazed that a woman with slanted eyes could possibly speak English so “good” (not “well,” mind you).

  23. missdk
    December 3, 2008 at 8:42 am

    My parents are plain jane white americans. The worse accent they have is my father pronouncing the H in herbs. But I do have a story of a different family! I had an Israeli friend in Jewish kindergarden that called her parents mother and father in Hebrew. I thought that was their real names so one day I called them “eema” and “abba.” I was embarrassed but so jealous too. So cool!

  24. December 3, 2008 at 9:08 am

    I’ve never had that experience (not living in the states and all) but I do always find it really strange speaking English in the UK, because being Irish, I have Hiberno-English – alot of which is directly translated from Gaelic…I got a weird look off someone in London once when I said “I’m after being over the bridge” meaning I just walked over the bridge…

    Relics of imperialism and effects of colonialism on my language!

    ps. I’m gonna try that curry but with a veggie alternative to the meat! :)

  25. suzy q
    December 3, 2008 at 9:10 am

    you better not put any sugar or ketchup in my curry holly !

  26. December 3, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Heh. I make many of the same errors in Japanese. I mix up tsu and su–it’s hard for me to distinguish the two sounds when I hear them, and I often default to tsu. I’d also mix up words.

    For example–the word for plate is osara. The word for monkey is saru. Do you know how many times I told my friends that While I was washing the monkeys, or don’t worry about the monkeys, I’ll take care of them. . . I was starting to be known as the mistress of the washed monkeys. Hmmm. That’s a good blog name.

    Also, I confused Ikutama, the name of a nearby shrine, and called it the Kintama shrine. I realized what I said right after it came out of my mouth (Kinatama means balls/scrotum). Hey, at least my students knew that it was normal to make mistakes in a second language!

  27. December 3, 2008 at 9:36 am

    I’ve been reading this website called recently, and I find it hilarious. It’s a lot of people of Asian descent who send in their moms’ emails.

    Oh my god, this website is making me cry with laughter. It’s definitely problematic since it walks that line between being totally embarassed / making fun of your mom and adoring her, but like I said it’s such a part of the immigrant experience. I don’t think we’d want it to keep from being expressed, even if there is that kind of negative, teenage “I wish I could be like everyone else” tinge to it.

    This is kind of why I think some types of stereotype-laden humor won’t ever go away. This is the same material that Margaret Cho uses for her act, and a lot of that is about her mom. It’s informed Jewish-mom stereotypes from Jewish comedians for many decades. You find the same kind of “this is what sets us apart from whitebread america, this is what makes us different, this is what makes us cringe, this is what we know and love” humor in Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle too. Of course it’s vastly different from if white comedians deployed the same stereotypes, and of course it’s still problematic and dabbling in a mixture racist stereotypes and realities. But the rawness and recognition remain, at least for the originally intended audience. Chappelle quit his show when he realized his jokes were being consumed by racist white fratboys in an entirely different light, from the way I hear it told.

    ps. I’m gonna try that curry but with a veggie alternative to the meat! :)

    You can totally just leave the meat out if you want and start with sauteeing onions and adding the hearty vegetables! If you use something like tofu, don’t put it in until the end or it will get way too soggy. Fried tofu might be good, or TVP strips. Wow I sound like my mom, huh.

    You know, I hope this doesn’t make me sound dense, but I honestly had no idea that the L and R switching could happen in print too. I thought it was just a pronunciation thing, because of the ambiguity between the sounds in their language.

    Oh, but it IS a pronunciation thing. That’s part of why it’s so hilarious. There are no “R” and “L” sounds in Japanese, just a sound that’s described as in between (although it’s also kind of like a very soft “D”). Whenever you see a Japanese word transliterated with an “R,” it’s that sound, as in “ramen” which actually comes from a Chinese word, lamian.

    My mom learned most of her English vocabulary decades ago. At one point she never would have written “frying pan” with a L, because she memorized the spelling and knew that this was a word with a L, not a R. But she never lost her accent, and it takes a conscious deliberate effort for her to pronounce L’s and R’s instead of the Japanese equivalent. She always does it on some words, like if she says “Library” she’ll often correct herself in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way and go “LLLLLLiiibrrrary!” But because she doesn’t really bother with plenty of other words, she simply forgot whether it’s supposed to be a L or and R in “fly” vs. “fry” and didn’t bother to look it up in a dictionary, since she was just writing an e-mail to her daughter.

    Little did she know that I was going to publish it. She would be very annoyed with me, but I swear it’s all out of love. (I’m not a teenager anymore!!)

    you better not put any sugar or ketchup in my curry holly !

    You shush! You’re going to eat whatever I put in the curry! If you’re nice you might get an extra tablespoon of chili powder and a cup of turmeric and asafoetida and some nice nan to distract you.

  28. pe
    December 3, 2008 at 10:05 am

    My parents both have strong eastern european accents — when I was in high school I had friends who’d call my answering machine just to hear the way my dad said “hello, you have reached ….”
    I always thought it was cool to have a secret language I could speak with my parents when I was over at a friend’s house.
    Funny about the green card comments, my mom had her green card for 26 years and just became a citizen (like, sworn in two weeks ago) because this past election made her want to be able to vote. She and my dad both had me give money to Obama in their name.

  29. December 3, 2008 at 10:25 am

    My husband was talking to his Australian friends on the webcam when I yelled at my neice (who just can’t sit and eat at the same time) “Get your fanny in that chair!”

    The Australians were horrified that I would say that to a child, my husband and I were baffled at their reaction. Turns out, “fanny” refers to an entirely different body part in Australia.

  30. December 3, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Hehe, that sounds like the embodiment of a cute parent email. My parents still regularly mix up he & she. Actually my kung fu sifu does the same thing all the time too. My mom also can’t distinguish between the vowel sound in “than” and “then.”

  31. December 3, 2008 at 11:53 am

    My uncle is still a foreign national, though he’s been here since he was in grade school. My dad, however, who immigrated at 18, totally assimilated in almost every respect. He came from Scotland, but in very Italian-American New Haven, there was a lot of tension, so he worked like hell to suppress his accent. The Scottish community there was small, and unlike Canada, Scots in the US are really dispersed and assimilated. Before the internet, it was very difficult to follow his football team, keep in touch with relatives, but Scottish food … do he became an American, without much connection to our heritage.

    My father didn’t see the land of his birth from 1970 to 2002 (I went back with him), and only as a retiree he has rediscovered much of what he lost. My sister and I have kept the homeland alive in our hearts. I love Haggis (good haggis is tough to find here), I recite some Burns poetry, I go to Scottish Games, I was married in a kilt, and I listen to Enter the Haggis and The Real McKenzies (and Silly Wizard when I can find it). We’re having a Burnsie (a Robert Burns supper, celebrating the poet who preserved the Scots language, and serving traditional Scottish food) at my house this year. My boys have kilts.

    I’m very interested in the differences between POC as immigrants and children of immigrants, and white immigrants; and between the more cohesive diasporas of what political scientists call “white ethnics” and the more assimilated, less cohesive diasporas.

  32. Mina
    December 3, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve been living in the US for 10 years now. I recently went to eat at a friend’s house and wanted to ask him to pass the green beans, but as soon as I opened my mouth I realized I had no idea what they were called in English. It was kind of embarrasing to ask him what they were called, but he seemed to take it in stride. I also learned what zucchini is called in English a few days ago. You think you’re fluent as a native, but these things sneak up on you.

    I also say “open/close the lights,” that’s a habit that stuck around from when I was still in the mode of translating from Arabic to English directly.

  33. December 3, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    That happens to me sometimes where I can’t remember the English word for something, and I grew up speaking English!! Or maybe I just have mild aphasia.

    Being bilingual (although I am way more fluent in English) causes all sorts of weird and funny disjunctions. Just the other day I was in an asian grocery store with a friend, who picked up a container of marinated octopus and vegetables with a label on it. “Look,” she said, “it says Taco Salad! What the hell?” I was like “What… it’s tako salad, so?” We were both confused for a second until I realized that she was expecting a salad in a crispy tortilla, not a salad with tako (octopus).

  34. Vail
    December 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    My mother is from the south, and she is a hoot sometimes. I myself don’t notice how heavy her accent is, but to everyone else it’s very apparent. The only bit of accent I’ve gotten from her is “you all” slipping into my speech. I manage to avoid saying worsh instead of wash or raaasling instead of wrestling. When I moved to Wisconsin I was totally baffled when people would as where the bubbler was (drinking/water fountain).

  35. exholt
    December 3, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    This is an uncomfortable topic with me as I have seen how most Americans and even many heavily/totally assimilated second and later Asian-Americans assume someone with a heavy accent is “not educated” and even “stupid”.

    What’s interesting is not only is that assumption often quite off the mark, but also that IME most Asian immigrants, even those who did not have the benefit of a college education actually write much more coherent and grammatically correct English in their essays and letters than most American-born & raised college first-years, even those at Ivy/Ivy-level schools. :roll:

    Don’t even get me started about how many American-born & raised undergrads complain they have a hard time in their undergrad classes because of “strong accents” from their foreign-born/looking TAs and Profs. Heck, I’ve even saw a student review of an American-born Asian-American Prof along such lines despite the fact I know her command of the English language is far above that of the complaining undergrad….or most college graduates I’ve met and dealt with. I wonder how many other cases of “phantom accents” like this have happened because the TA/Prof didn’t look “American enough”?

    IME, whenever I hear such complaints from American-born/raised undergrads, I find the issue is not really the “hard to understand accent”, but an exhibition of a varying mix of racist attitudes, deep entitlement, laziness, and an inability to acknowledge that the real issue is their own inability/unwillingness to put in the time/effort in the course(s).

    In short, if someone says they did poorly/having a hard time in a course because of the TA/Prof’s accent, what I really hear is “I’d rather make excuses for my own mediocrity rather than take responsibility for my own education.” :roll:

  36. AnthroBabe
    December 3, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Favorite idiom from my uncle – (German) – when he was done with a meal:
    “I am all fed up!”

    Both parents have strong accents (Spanish, German) after being in the US for over 40 years! And they both have their cute little words that they STILL mangle. Love it.

  37. queenie
    December 3, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    My mother is Dominican and completely bilingual but idioms still get sometimes. She used to always ask me and my sister if we wanted to go the “drive by” for dinner instead of the drive through. We typically responded with giggles and by telling her we’d rather not get shot today.

  38. December 3, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    exholt —

    i know what you mean!! i had a terribly intelligent and wonderful Japanese-born woman as my sociology professor, and everyone in the world complains ‘omg i couldn’t understand a word she was saying waaaaaaaaah!’ oh BULLSHIT. anything she thinks she isn’t pronouncing right (she actually usually is pronouncing it understandably, but she wants to make sure) she writes down on the board and everything. nevermind that her accent just isn’t that ‘thick.’

    anyway, i think she’s fantastic. i was going to change my name legally to Lorelei that semester but when i realized she pronounced L’s as R’s, i decided to post-pone for her convienance (and i’m not exactly dying to throw $200+ at the county court).

  39. December 3, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    and also to continue on exholt’s point:

    after a bit of prodding, it usually finally comes out that all the people who claimed to do poorly in my sociology professor’s class ‘because of her accent’ were actually (literally) falling asleep in her class because sociology bored them to tears. uh. that isn’t an accent problem, hon. @@

    so yes, agree with exholt’s post 100%.

  40. Alice
    December 4, 2008 at 4:33 am

    Lauren & SnowdropExplodes, I’m originally from Otago in NZ, and my family’s from Southland (areas settled by the Scots), and I understood your example phrases perfectly! Funny how some things carry through the generations! Or watching all those episodes of Last of the Summer Wine.

    My second season working in Colorado, my roommate compared my accent with that of a friend who’d come to visit – mine was somehow more Kiwi, but easier to understand. Apparently I’d adapted my accent slightly so that the American customers could understand me more easily, but I’d managed to accentuate some things which identified me as a NZer.

  41. December 4, 2008 at 6:43 am

    I get that.
    I had a French lecturer for my EU Law class in college and she used to say “the devloppment of….” rather than “development”. It used to crack me up. Not in a mean way like I was laughing *at* her, I was just laughing at the words ;)

  42. lemur
    December 4, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    There is something odd about the different “R’s” and if you can pronounce them. For instance,I’ve been learning Japanese for 6 years now, and I was so, so PROUD of myself when I finally got the ‘r’ sounds close to right. But I was never able to learn the rolling “R” in Spanish or Arabic. Oddly, I was one of the first to learn how to say the more throaty sounds right- but the R remained out of my grasp.

  43. Hershele Ostropoler
    December 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    My father, who’s on TV, says he doesn’t have an accent. He does, a bit, but he lives around the corner (though across a substantial socioeconomic gap) from where he grew up

  44. December 5, 2008 at 4:38 am

    oh man, those curry cubes have been a LIFESAVER since moving to japan. i had to convince myself not to feel guilty using them, sine at first it felt like about the same amount of effort as microwave pizza…now i’m a total convert. i love also the cubes for hokkaido stew and “clam chowder” (sorry, being from new england i have to put that in quotation marks. doesn’t mean it’s not tasty).

    my funny memories are mostly of my grandmother, who, although she had a thick french accent, was more valuable comedically for her tendency to say hysterically catty things rather loudly. she was 80 when she died, but i don’t believe she ever thought of herself as anything other than a 20-year-old sexy brash french girl who made all the boys laugh.

    my mother, although her accent is just new england townie-ese, is good for mangling words, because she lost feeling in one side of her tongue after dental surgery in her thirties. one of the most common phrases out of her mouth is “YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!”

  45. December 5, 2008 at 4:48 am

    oh and, @Sheelzebub – you just try living here and being named sara(h). guess what job i always get when it’s cleanup time after a meal?

  46. December 5, 2008 at 7:59 am

    My mothers first language is Maliseet (Native American, New Brunswick Canada, and Maine) and they pronounce the sounds for T like D, K like G, and P like B when they come first or in the middle of words, but not at the end. My favorite pronunciation from my mother is when she says McDonalds, as in the fast food restaurant. She says Mugadonalds. I’ve learned a few words and phrases, but even though I can hear the proper way they sound, I can’t get my mouth to pronounce them right. So I get as many Maliseet people laughing at me when I try to speak Maliseet, as I laugh at their pronunciation of English words.

  47. December 5, 2008 at 9:22 am

    @stompie–where are you in Japan? I was in Osaka for three and a half years and loved it. Every so often I get very Japan-sick for properly deep bathtubs and noodles and curry rice and NEON NEON NEON EVERYWHERE (in the cities at least). Oh, and hotsprings. And fireflies. And ciccadas, of all things. And print club machines. And the prizes Mr. Donuts gives out when you collect enough points. And KITTY CHAN. And the dramas on TV. And Chibi Mariko-chan. And. . .and. . . and. . .Sigh.

    @lemur–I found that if I started the sound as an r and ended it as an l it came out okay. In Osaka they roll their r’s a lot, but I was told it can sound kind of crude (so please don’t do that my friends told me. I had a bad habit of repeateng whatever new word I heard, an I heard a lot of salty things, apparently.)

  48. December 5, 2008 at 9:47 am

    I adore accents – ALL accents! And I love these stories, they’re so touching – so affectionate and fondly exasperated.

    One of my best friend is from just outside Newcastle (UK) and he has the most gorgeous accent – he once sent me a text saying, “Are we still gannen oot the neet?” (“are we still going out tonight?”) because he knows I like it so much. My friends and I have a bet that I will end up with someone from Scotland or Ireland – or possibly an Aussie…

    An old family friend of ours is Russian but moved to America forty years ago, then to the UK about fifteen years ago – his English is pretty much perfect, but he occasionally gets dialect and slang confused. The best example is when his wife, a Jewish New Yorker, said “Awww, shucks!” and he burst out laughing and asked, “Why do you say Sharks? Why not ‘whales’?”

    My great-grandmother was also Russian, and for about ten years her doorbell didn’t always ring properly, and so she wrote a little sign to put above it, that read: “Please push hard the bell in the middle”.

    And my own story – when I was in Australia a few years ago, I was ordering a pizza over the phone, and the computer wouldn’t recognise the word “Adelaide” when I tried to tell them where I was! I had to get the barman to say “Adelaide” into the phone.

  49. December 5, 2008 at 9:59 am

    And another great story I just remembered, told to us by the Russian-American who mixed up “shucks” and “sharks”:

    A famous conductor from Eastern Europe came to conduct the New York Phil about thirty years ago, and was having trouble keeping control during a rehearsal. Finally he lost it, and shouted “You! You think you’re so clever, all of you! And you think I know fuck nothing, but I promise you, I know FUCK ALL!”

    Which silenced them for approximately five seconds…

    And then of course there are the opposite cases, of foreign students at my university whose English is better than mine!

  50. exholt
    December 6, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    after a bit of prodding, it usually finally comes out that all the people who claimed to do poorly in my sociology professor’s class ‘because of her accent’ were actually (literally) falling asleep in her class because sociology bored them to tears. uh. that isn’t an accent problem, hon. @@


    Yep. For some reason, this excuse was prevalent among undergrads who did poorly or failed their class(es)….and many other friends and co-workers who studied at other students or college classmates who TA courses had similar findings from their experiences.

    And then of course there are the opposite cases, of foreign students at my university whose English is better than mine!

    Incidentally, one of the few good things about having US public figures like President G.W. Bush or Governor/VP Candidate Sarah Palin was that it boosted the verbal English skills confidence of so many foreign-born co-workers and international students I’ve worked/hung out with. Several have remarked how hearing W or Palin speak in interviews and in speeches made them feel great as their spoken English greatly exceeded theirs despite their having spent only a short time in the US.

  51. lemur
    December 7, 2008 at 12:47 am

    I’ve got that part down now- LOTS of mimicking the Japanese grad students that interned at my high school. Now I’m hoping to spend a year abroad in Tokyo, and FINALLY become fluent, after 6 years of language study.

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