Seems like a simple and direct question for a language learner to hear fairly often. Except that this phrase is not only limited to EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students, or any other foreign language learner for that matter. Phrases like these are also heard by people who have spoken their native language their whole lives. It is usually assumed that only foreigners have an ‘accent’, but is that entirely true?
What, then, is considered to be an accent?
Does it need to be melodious and have a French ‘feel’ or ‘give off’ a sophisticated attitude like that of a British gentleman? Accents could be simplified as: ‘a particular way of speaking that a group of people share.’ In these variations of the language, differences in pronunciation, intonation, vocabulary and even grammar can be shared amongst groups of speakers from similar regions. So, in essence, everyone has an accent. Accents that shape who you are and share with the rest of the world your background and your individuality.
This term can sometimes be wrongly associated with having lack of knowledge of the language. Attitudes like these can lead to negative stereotypes of certain regions of a country or a group of people. One reason for this is that news broadcasts, government speeches or any other formal, traditional sources of communication promote use of a standard version of the language. This standard version of language then becomes associated to the official use of the language but subsequently distances all of the diversity that exists within the reach of this variant of the language. Nevertheless, without forgetting about the necessary items needed to convey a proper message, such as basic grammar or production of phonemes, language diversity should be acknowledged and celebrated. It creates a melting pot of different experiences and points of view.
In the end, diversity of language goes hand in hand with the diversity of the individuals who interact with it. As long as individuals change and evolve, so will language. Pronunciation will change, vocabulary will change, intonation will change: accents will change.
Maybe the next time you hear the phrase ”I love your accent” you can reply with the phrase “I love yours too, where are you from?” and enjoy each other’s diversity.