That damn accent. That beautiful accent

That damn accent. That beautiful accent

“Where are you from?” they ask me the minute I open my mouth. 

All it would take is one word, a simple hello, and they would immediately discover that I’m not one of them, that I’m a transplant from a faraway land. 

After seventeen years of living in the US, I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce one American word correctly before revealing my true colors, my deviation from red, white and blue.

Even though I’m a naturalized citizen who proudly carries her American passport everywhere I go, I was not born in this land. This purgatory is where I dwell—one foot in Rockville, Maryland, and another in Jordan, where I grew up. Having an accent only accentuates that sense of not belonging, the unsettling feeling that the jig is always up, that I’m a foreigner who will die a foreigner. 

When I first moved to the US and realized my phonetics issues, it bothered me. It really bothered me, especially when sometimes the question of where I was from would be followed by, “Do you speak English?”

It infuriated me when people slowed down their speech to talk to me so that I could understand them since, in their eyes, my accent was proof of my language inferiority.

I grappled with many issues as I sunk into the hole of self-doubt. Would my accent affect my job prospects? Would potential employers think I’m not qualified enough even though I had over two decades of experience and a master’s degree in journalism from one of the best universities in the United Kingdom (the birthplace of the English language)? 

Would my accented American English impede my pursuit of a writing job in English? Shall I enroll in an accent reduction class? Can I even afford that?

Although eventually I got various jobs in the US and appeared on TV to comment on international news, was invited to speak on panels, and was published in top newspapers like the Washington Post and Elle magazine, self-doubt never left me.

That damn accent.

My unfair advantage

Everything changed when I attended a live presentation by media mogul Greek-American Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. She started her presentation with this one sentence: “I have an accent.” Then she made a joke about her accent, saying her ex-husband thinks it’s because “she never listens.” Everyone laughed, and she moved on. She addressed the elephant in the room first, made it fun, and then went on with her presentation.

That’s when I realized her strategy and how she managed to work it in her favor. She used her accent as her opening line and as a joke that set her presentation on a powerful note. She transformed what I’d always seen as an impediment into an advantage.

I was so inspired by her accent strategy that I started doing the same. I flipped the script using my accent to showcase my worldly experience. I would start any presentation I give or any job interview by saying that I worked and lived across the world “as you can tell from my accent.” My audience would usually react with a smile or chuckle, moving on to the day’s business.

I also use my accent to eliminate the fear of asking stupid questions, especially when I’m on the phone trying to sort out a financial issue with the bank or an IT problem with my internet provider. 

I would ask any question I can think of because of the perception of accented people being less educated, immigrants from a less developed locale who just got off the boat.

“What’s an interest rate again?”

“What’s a SWIFT code?”

“What’s the difference between 5G and 4G?”

All my questions got answered.

I ask and ask and never stop. My biased theory is there is no stupid question if you have an accent. The world is your oyster. In those instances, I embrace the assumption that I’m subpar and ask stupid questions to my heart’s content.

Instead of being an impediment, my accent is now my superpower,  my way of showcasing my unique expertise, my cosmopolitan brand. 

After years of dwelling in self-doubt, my accent now is my unfair advantage; it’s what makes me stand out from the crowd and also lets me get away with asking many questions.

When I usually make a joke about my accent, the response sometimes would be, “It’s a beautiful accent.” Yes, that damn accent is beautiful, after all.


No excuses for not learning a language. Just ask Siri

No excuses for not learning a language. Just ask Siri

A quick encounter that took place at our local library the other day has left me with a number of insights. First it was a great reminder of the power of your mindset, and second it has emphasized my belief that we live in the best time for learning and building skills.

While checking out the books that my children had picked at the the library (anime, lots of anime), a woman who was wearing the hijab and her daughter approached me and greeted me with the Arabic greeting  Al Salamu aleikom.

Without giving it a second thought, I responded Wa Aleikom El Salam, and then I thought to myself how did she know I spoke Arabic? Was my olive skin enough to give away my origin? After all, everyone here thought I was Latina. Could she really detect my origins even when I was masked?

“How did you know I spoke Arabic?” I asked her.

She pointed at my shirt. I looked down at what I was wearing and then I looked up and smiled. “Oh yeah, of course,” I said.

I was wearing a T-shirt that had the name of my home city, Amman, written in Arabic calligraphy.

The woman asked me where I was from, and told me that she Iranian and that her teenage daughter who was standing right next to her spoke Arabic.

Her daughter immediately started speaking with me in Modern Standard Arabic (classical Arabic), and I responded back. Her Arabic was pretty good.

When I asked how she learned Arabic (since very few Iranians I knew spoke Arabic), she gave me an answer that blew my mind.

“I learned Arabic through Siri.”

“You mean Siri from the iPhone?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

What a genius idea! This teenager, just kept asking Siri how do you say this or that in Arabic until she learned the language.

This teenager is one with a growth mindset. One that made her mind to learn a language and learned in the most efficient, affordable and nuanced way.

She made it happen and she proved it to me.

That made me think about learning opportunities nowadays, and indeed what a good time to be alive

To quote Marie Forleo  “Everything Is Figureoutable“. You can learn anything you set your mind on by going online , reading articles, watching YouTube videos, downloading ebooks, or even using the power of AI by messing around with Siri.

I’m sure that teenager will grow up to do wonderful things, and the reason boils down to her mindset. She wanted to learn Arabic so she just figured it out. Everything is indeed figueroutable.

If you really want to learn a language, you cam learn it. No excuses will rescue you. You don’t need money, or time or resources.

You have the internet, Google Translate, Siri, Alexa, audio books, DuoLingo. You can learn anytime, anywhere, and without spending a dime.

What time to be alive!

*Photo credit: Omid Armin, Unsplash