This is what I heard today over the phone from a potential client. She does not have a thick accent but she does has one. She sounds fairly confident and certainly intelligent. She has a couple of degrees and valid work experience. So what’s the problem, right?
She sometimes feels shy when she is in a group of Canadians. She is not sure what to say and if she says something is it appropriate or not. She is not as confident as she would like to be.
Like many she starts to think it is because of her accent, but as we chat longer over the phone she begins to understand that her level of formal English, both academic and professional, have taken her so far, but not far enough to truly mingle stress-free with the native Canadians. What does she need?
After admitting that she doesn’t have any native English-speaking friends to hang out with (she spends time only with people from her community – the exact community is not important for this story) I tell her that she needs to study, learn and integrate pop culture and idioms more to help increase her comfort.
It almost sounds too easy and so she resists, but it will not do her any good. Language, any language, not just English, is a reflection of the culture. Textbook English starts you off but to improve fluency you need to be able to speak about current affairs, get pop culture references and retort back to idioms.
Reducing your accent will benefit you if you have a thick accent, and there is nothing wrong with spending time to work on it even if it’s pretty good already, if you so choose. But please do not neglect the amount of fluency that comes from informal chit-chat, especially through idioms, slang, colloquialisms, and pop-culture references like movies, comics, heroes, books, etc.
Who is Princess Leigh?
What is a Hobbit?
Where does ‘Gotham city’ come from?
Name a friend of Harry Potter.
What’s the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek?
Name a few main characters from Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons.
I could go on but for now if you can answer these questions easily then you are not living with your head in the sand, and you probably enjoy North American culture. If you are having problems answering my questions, then you probably have difficulty with small talk and in social situations in general with native English speakers, especially us North Americans. Borrow some books, rent some dvds, and watch some more TV. If you have friends to join you – all the better. Create a study group and have fun while you learn. It’s worth the investment of time to learn some pop culture, and who knows, you might actually have fun learning it! 🙂