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I'm an American. I moved to Israel. My Hebrew is OK, but I don't speak it perfectly. I also have... quite a strong accent. I'm trying to work on it, but it's there and fairly noticeable.

Sometimes I'm talking - in a public space - to some kids my age (15), and some kids a few years younger than me (13/14 - not like a kindergartener) walk past. They pass by, and then they start laughing at my accent. Not too much - just for a minute, and not really in a mean way.

I don't think it was meant maliciously (they aren't bad kids), it was just like a social thing. These aren't kids that I interact with frequently, either - say around twice a month we bump into each other.

How do I respond in a way that will both express that I don't appreciate the laughter as well as not escalating the situation?

What do I keep in mind? What is a good general approach in this type of situation?

30

Just be proud of the fact you're putting in the effort to try and improve your accent. If anything it'll be a great way for you to know when you've successfully gotten rid of your accent.

Having been in the same situation as you in a country where no one spoke my mother-tongue. When anyone thought to laugh I let them. I sometimes do the same when I hear someone with a strong accent speaking English. It's amusing because it's different.

As long as they don't do it maliciously take it on the chin. You're doing your best to learn another language and you should be proud of the fact that you are.

Note: This applies to any skill you're trying to learn. Be it learning the piano or working out in the gym. People are going to see you're not as good as them and laugh. Use it as motivation to get better and prove them wrong.

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    If anything it'll be a great way for you to know when you've successfully gotten rid of your accent. Either that or all/most of them will get used to the OP's accent and hence stop reacting in that way. No doubt, the former is more desirable but the latter comes a close second because it can be very difficult to get rid of accent completely. – alwayslearning Jul 23 '17 at 5:14
  • @alwayslearning except he's only seeing them once or twice a month. – Edlothiad Jul 23 '17 at 8:08
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    What if having an accent can be considered funny by everyone including the speaker, and also a natural and not an undesirable thing? – Dronz Jul 23 '17 at 15:13
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    > People are going to see you're not as good as them and laugh. Use it as motivation to get better and prove them wrong. "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." – Anshuman Bhaduri Jul 24 '17 at 3:26
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    @Dronz That would actually create a supportive environment that is positive for language learning actually (And if that were the case, I doubt this question would exist) :) – Zizouz212 Jul 24 '17 at 3:49
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I just want to raise a perspective that wasn't necessarily brought up by Edlothiad.

For many of these kids, hearing someone with an accent in their language is very different. They may be looking at the pronunciation of your words, your grammar and so on.

They're not doing it to be mean, it's because they genuinely think that it's funny. Behaviours like this are completely natural - it's a difference to them, and it's a learning curve for you. The laugh doesn't mean "Oh haha! You're so bad." It's a way of teaching you that is fun and appreciative of your efforts. As someone who fluently speaks two languages, and who is learning more, I can almost guarantee that this is the case.

If it starts bothering you to the point you are getting annoyed, feel free to speak up. Depending on your personality, something like "Hey! Quit it!" would do. If you bump into them fairly infrequently, it's probably not a big deal.

Otherwise, take it in a positive light. You're there to learn. And as Edlothiad said in his answer, use this as a motivator to improve your proficiency in the language you are learning.

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    About Yoda grammar think you should. – PlasmaHH Jul 23 '17 at 22:16
  • @PlasmaHH Wait what? – Zizouz212 Jul 24 '17 at 19:53
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    Think about how messed up yodas grammar is and how we think about it. Yes, we make fun about it and there are countless memes based on that, but its because its genuinely funny, not because we want to mock yoda as a being. Well, at least not all of us ^^ – PlasmaHH Jul 24 '17 at 20:16
  • @PlasmaHH Oh okay. I was really confused there for a second! :P – Zizouz212 Jul 24 '17 at 20:17
  • @PlasmaHH The "correct" yoda grammar would be "Think about Yoda grammar, you should". But it does make for a great example. Almost everyone laughs at the grammar while at the same time love Yoda as a character in the movies. – Imus Jun 4 '18 at 5:57
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Kids laugh at almost anything they find unusual.

Your accent is just that. Unusual. Perhaps like the others said, it'll be an indication for you that you've improved your accent when they stop laughing. Take it as a positive thing. It's not like they're bullying you for this.

I've seen people laugh at Indians' accents when they speak English. But it's not because it's terrible. It's just a sort of automatic response to hearing something unusual.

I for one grew up in the Middle East (Dubai, currently) and I've met people of all sorts of accents speak English here. It'll take time to get used to hearing new accents. Let this not worry you much.

If people were intentionally harassing you, that would have been something requiring more careful consideration. This now is just kids being kids, and they're not doing this to hurt you intentionally.

6

The thing is, in Israel everyone has an accent, and we laugh at each other, it's nothing personal, it's like a national sport. Or yo momma yokes. The high school I was in had Russian, Hungarian, Ethiopian (Amharic), English, Persian etc. accents and we teased each other about it all the time. And there were the tzabars (the natives, heh) but they also had accents - sefardi vs ashkenazi pronounciation and so on.

We had a lot of fun teasing each other with accents, stereotypical jokes and stuff like that. As long as it isn't done maliciously, don't fret about it, and no need to be self-concious about it. You're making efforts to learn the language instead of speaking English with everyone - it is usually appreciated.

About getting rid of the accent - from personal experience, learning a few languages at the same time helps, if in your HC they teach Arabic or French, (usually those are the choices in addition to the English) then go for it, it'll help a lot.

6

In Switzerland,we have the same thing with different dialects of swiss german. Everyone laughs about everyone (especially about the guys from zurich and st. gallen). As I moved to a different region, I had to hear a lot of silly comments about my dialect too. On the other hand, I myself laugh and crack jokes about other swiss dialects. It's just something pretty much everyone does. Taking stuff like this serious is definitely the wrong approach. Just learn to laugh about it too. After that you don't really notice it/ care anymore.

2

Work on your speech but realize that you will always have an accent. Since you're young, the better chances you will speak more like those around you the more you talk to them. So don't respond by speaking to them less or your accent won't improve as much. Every region has a different accent, especially here in the U.S. and in the Southern U.S. where I'm at, there are many different southern accents. It seems like everyone has a different amount of "southern draw". People with a lot of "draw" even sound funny to me and I've lived here all my life. You may always sound funny to some people if the accents there are varied much. Try not to take the teasing seriously or personal. Many people do impressions of accents for fun. I like trying to speak in a British accent. Maybe you should have fun with it and respond by trying to speak in a thicker accent or a foreign accent. That way you show them that it doesn't bother you and you can laugh at yourself. Accents should be a matter of pride unless you're from the Southern U.S. lol jk.

  • It's "drawl", not "draw". – Monty Harder Jul 24 '17 at 15:36
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Laughter isn't [necessarily] bad. This varies by culture, by context and by individual, and it's very easy to assume that non-verbal communication (as well as paralanguage) mean the same for others as it does for you. Ideally you can train yourself to first assume the best and maybe even laugh with them, or back at them. Another option is to engage a few "laughers" in a short polite conversation. Yet another to ask a more "rooted" friend to interpret a few situations and responses for you.

If it were a work place, the canonical suggestion is to talk to those individuals one-to-one, where you learn that individual's background/context and way of thinking, as he or she does yours. It may very well happen that those kids will be looking up to you soon :)

Other strategies include:

  • get ahead (give a presentation, then everyone knows your background)
  • moral high ground (speak English to them)
  • deflection (laugh about anything with your friends)
  • peer pressure (conspire with others / m.o.s.)
  • confusion (just smile)
  • confusion prime (talk to them as if they are your friends)
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    What's 'm.o.s.'? – Mithical Jul 24 '17 at 9:10
  • Member of opposite sex (or actually gender), being more effective at peer pressure in this age group :) – Dima Tisnek Jul 24 '17 at 21:30

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