Readers' Submissions

American Accents Only at International Schools

  • Written by John
  • June 28th, 2007
  • 5 min read



For some reason, which I haven’t been able to figure out, every Thai student (as well as students from other nationalities) educated in Bangkok international schools speaks with an American accent. Why is that? There are a few possible reasons for this, but it just doesn’t make sense to me why they all have American accents.

There are thousands of foreign native English teachers in Bangkok. Working as an English teacher in various venues over the years, I’d make a rough guess that more than 50% of the teachers speak with North American accents, and less than 40% speak with British accents. Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans probably make up less than 10% of foreign English teachers. There are also many non-native English speakers teaching English, most of which are Filipino, though I’ve come across, a few European and Scandinavian English teachers as well. They all speak English with different accents. One accent isn’t any better than another as far as I’m concerned, but I think it is quite boring that all of these students at international schools speak with American accents. They also behave like American kids in nearly every respect.

There are many expensive condominiums around Sukhumvit Soi 24, near the Emporium. Many foreign and Thai children living there go to expensive International Schools such as ISB and NISB. These schools are for the rich only, and can cost more than 300 thousand baht per semester. These schools all have a fair number of British and other non-American English teachers, yet every kid that goes to these schools speaks English with an American accent. Why is that?

Though overall, at least 50% of the foreign teachers are American, other high-end international schools like Harrows and Shrewsbury hire predominantly British teachers because they follow the British curriculum. I still haven’t come across one student from any of these schools that speaks with a British accent yet they spend most of the day studying the British curriculum with British teachers.

When I raise this issue with some people, they often say it has to do with Hollywood movies and American TV shows. That definitely has an influence, but I don’t think it accounts for too much. Many Thai kids listen to American hip-hop music, yet they don’t talk like black Americans when they speak English. It must be something more than the media that is influencing their accents. I was in Singapore recently and I noticed that many Singaporeans that are fluent in English speak sort of a hybrid between North American and British English. They watch the same movies and TV shows as the Thai kids, yet they don’t usually have American accents.

It isn’t just the accents that are American; it is the mannerisms as well. Many of these kids would fit right in Southern California. Just like American kids (and some American adults) they seem incapable of carrying on a conversation without repeatedly saying “like,” “you know”, “I mean”, “totally” and “um”. I’ve also noticed that black kids that go to the international schools, even if they aren’t American, dress and act like black kids in the USA. What is that about? Why would a non-American black kid educated in a foreign international school speak with a black American accent and wear ridiculously baggy clothes and NBA jerseys down to their knees? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Is this considered “cool”, even in Thailand? I don’t understand how that could ever be considered fashionable or “cool” anywhere, but maybe that’s just my opinion.

Whatever accent these kids speak with, it’s too bad that many Thai kids brought up in these international schools choose not to speak Thai. I’ve seen many rich Thai kids around Bangkok speaking English only with American accents. Many of them don’t even interact with Thai kids that don’t speak English. Maybe they think, “It’s like, um… you know, not cool enough” for them to speak Thai anymore. Perhaps there is a time during their education where they can choose how they want to speak, and speaking with an American accent is “cool” for some reason. Once again, if you have any insight on this, please drop me a line.

A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a Filipino woman who is teaching English at an international school. This school is a low-end international school run by Seventh Day Adventists. Many of the low-end international schools push Christianity and the Bible trying to convert the students to become fundamentalist Christians. The students have to go to the school church every day or every week to listen to a Christian sermon (even if they aren’t Christian). Most parents that send their kids to these schools aren’t interested in Christianity at all, but they aren’t rich enough to send their kids to schools like ISB that don’t push religion. Many of these parents would probably be appalled if they knew what kind of religious pressures students receive at these schools. These schools piss me off to no end, but that could be a topic for an entirely different essay.

Anyway, back to the point… The Filipino teacher told me that she speaks with “less of an accent” than many native English speaking teachers.” This comment is ludicrous because the accent of any native speaker can be considered the normal way to speak English. I pressed her on what she meant by this comment, and she explained that she thought she sounded “more American”, which in her opinion is the standard. Therefore, she thinks her broken English is better than an Australian or Scottish teacher’s accent because she thinks she sounds more American than he does. That is absurd. I’m sure any Aussies or Scots reading this would agree.

Please contact me if you have any insight about this. My email is paleozoic9@gmail.com

Cheers,

John

Stickman's thoughts:

Very good point this and I have to say that I have noticed that many international school kids speak with the American accent. I will say though that kids who have started at British curriculum international schools from a young age do tend to have a British accent.