The way you speak and pronounce words in English constitute a huge part of the image you project: either you are perceived as competent and professional or your poor command of English might suggest reduced intellectual capacity in the eyes of English speakers.
Most likely you will never be told that upfront as our society is deemed to be tolerant, but you can see this funny look in the eyes of the person you are talking to, and your chances of being hired or promoted depend directly on the impression you make.
We may be far away in place and time from London of the first decade of the 20th century where social class and the accent were interconnected, but the parallels are still the case, you are judged by the way you speak and this fact cannot be simply ignored.
Watch the story of a dramatic transformation of an underprivileged commoner turning into a refined lady.
My Fair Lady is a 1964 American film based on George Bernard Shaw‘s stage play Pygmalion. The film shows a poor Cockney flower-seller named Eliza Doolittle who overhears an arrogant phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, as he makes a bet that he could teach her to speak “proper” English, and as such making her accepted in the high society of London.
Professor Henry Higgins believes based on societal norms and prejudices of that time that the accent and tone of one’s voice determines a person’s prospects in society. Higgins brags he could teach anybody to speak English so well he could pass them off as an aristocrat.
Eliza’s dream is to work in a flower shop, but her accent is the major obstacle. The next morning she arrives at Higgins’ house, seeking lessons. She puts up with Higgins’ demanding teaching methods and the condescending treatment of her personally, and finally masters a perfect upper class accent.
Higgins then takes Eliza to an embassy ball for the final test, where she dances with a foreign prince. Also present is Zoltan Karpathy, a Hungarian phonetics expert trained by Higgins. After he dances with Eliza, he declares that she is a Hungarian princess since “her English is too good that clearly indicates she is foreign”.
Our society may not be so strictly stratified as the society of the early 20th century London but old ways die hard. Your pronunciation is how you come across and that affects your successful integration into the new country, especially if you aim high.
Watch this episode from “My fair lady” and enjoy the presence of the lovely Audrey Hepburn starring as Eliza Doolittle.
* Cockney = the accent of the poor and the working class of London