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Wanted: American Accents in India!

by Rajashri on October 14, 2008 at 1:32 PM
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 Wanted: American Accents in India!

Speaking American English was a pre-requisite in call-enters in India some years ago. Now even children, business people and teenagers want to acquire the American accent here.

The phenomenon has spread from the Indian offshore operations boom in the late 1990s to a wider cross-section of society, whether to help them get on in business, communicate with family State-side or just show off.


In Mumbai, arguably India's most cosmopolitan city, a number of language schools have sprung up offering accent coaching. Mumbaikars are also trawling the Internet looking for tutors to teach them to talk like Uncle Sam.

"About 50 percent of our students want American accents," Raj Oberoi, who runs the Just Talk Institute in the south of the city, told AFP.

Most of his students come from India's middle class, whose numbers have swelled on the back of the country's economic boom, and range in age from seven to 65, he added.

"People want to learn an American accent because they want to study abroad, perhaps they're going on a business trip or they think they'll be able to impress people if they talk with an American accent," he said.

The phenomenon marks a shift in attitude towards English, which was brought to India by its former British rulers and remains an official language, spoken by 90 million people.

Indian English can sound archaic to British ears, with words and phrases that have long since dropped out of usage back home.

But while "the Queen's English" - or received pronunciation - is still taught in schools, Americanisms are creeping in, not just in business, as US films, food, fashion and music find favour with young Indians.

Oberoi conceded that a British accent was something to aspire to in the past, and may still be among older people, but that is changing.

The head of English at the University of Mumbai, Dr Ram Badode, noted that there had been a "drastic" change in his students' English, as they looked to the United States for further studies and well-paid jobs.

"In terms of spelling, people are not so sacrosanct about the British or received pronunciation. Now they're open to change. This is a major change in terms of spelling and accent and it's gaining currency," he told AFP.

Judging by the daily queues outside the US consulate in Mumbai, there is no shortage of Indians wanting a taste of the American Dream, despite the current financial turmoil.

Around 1.5 million Indian-born immigrants lived in the United States in 2006, making them the fourth largest immigrant group in the country. More than one third arrived since 2000, according to US government statistics.

Shammi Sharma, 24, works for telecoms giant Ericsson in Mumbai and is one of Oberoi's former students.

"I wanted a US accent because I'm just a guy from a village. Bombay is a metro city. When I came here every second person would talk to me in English. I didn't know the language very well," he told AFP.

The courses, which also include leadership skills, public speaking and personal development, have helped his confidence, and joked that having a slight US accent was a boost "especially with the girls".

At work, he added: "It helps your clients. Somewhere down the line people don't think that you're foreign or struggle to understand."

Oberoi, an Iowa State University graduate, said that by watching and listening to US television programmes for at least half an hour every day, trying to imitate its sounds and exaggerating the accent helps change speech.

The accountants, doctors, fashion designers, bankers and college students may not sound like native New Yorkers or Californians after the course, he said.

But their spoken English is likely to be more neutral - making it easier to comprehend for Americans who might struggle with Indian accents, he added.

Americanisation has its critics but Badode sees it as a logical consequence of US world dominance and inevitable that people want a part of it.

"It's a positive thing because we are taking enjoyment by using American accents and spelling," he said, rejecting suggestions that India's rich culture and heritage will be diluted.

But he also offered another view. Sixty-one years after Indian independence it was another way of leaving behind the country's colonial past.

Source: AFP

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