Growing Up Bi-Dialectal and Bi-Accented

By Aishwarya Badanidiyoor

They say language is one of the quickest ways to establish personal connections. Having grown up in multiple countries, adapting to new environments was always a priority of mine, and that meant picking up on the (sometimes subtle) differences in communication between the widely varied cultures and societies that I came across. To give you a little background, I lived in Saudi Arabia for the first ten years of my life, and then moved to India for the rest of middle school. I went to high school in Canada, and then attended Engineering school in India. Currently a master’s student and conversation partner here at USC, I have had the opportunity to meet quite a few international students along the way, and one thing that some of us have in common is our ability to speak multiple dialects/accents of English fluently, due to our diverse upbringing.

I grew up speaking a very neutral Indian accent for the first 9 years of my life, due to my stay in Saudi Arabia. Many people are not aware of this, but Indian accents come in varying flavors, which is why when I moved to India for middle school, my classmates and I had trouble understanding each other for the first few months. When I moved to Canada for high school 4 years later, the differences in accents, phrases, word usage, and intonation (amongst many other things) were quite obvious. Within a few months, my little brother and I had already adapted a neutral general North American accent, garnished with a few of the more obvious characteristics of Canadian English.

Once I moved to a different part of India for Engineering school there was a accent divide between me and my classmates once again. Within the year however, I had molded my tongue into sounding more local without much hassle. This brought about some new challenges for me – I regularly conversed with my Canadian friends in my north american accent, and switched to the new Indian one with my Indian friends.

This “switching” eventually became a huge insecurity of mine, and led to me questioning my sense of identity and belonging, simply because I had never met anyone in the same situation as me. My insecurity was not that I was bidialectal, but that the two accents were completely unrelated to and so far removed from each other. I am also bidialectal in my mother tongue (Kannada) although I’m not very fluent with the secondary dialect. However, I have noticed that being bidialectal in Indian languages is considered socially acceptable and even encouraged, as many people who travel frequently within India are usually bidialectal (and multilingual).

I have since spoken to close friends and family about my bidialectal English, and have also met several peers who share the same experiences as me. I have realized that being bidialectal comes from a strong ability to empathise with people and adapt to new cultures – something that I am proud of. I am also constantly learning about certain quirks in my own speech, where certain word usages/intonations/pronunciations of one English dialect will very occasionally “leak” into the other mid-sentence. I have come to embrace this as my very own flavor of English, and have grown to accept this as a privilege in its own right.

Featured image by fotografierende on Unsplash

Aishwarya is a Canadian graduate student studying MS Computer Science at Viterbi School of Engineering at USC. She has had a diverse upbringing, having lived and studied in different cities of India, Saudi Arabia and Canada. Aishwarya is always eager to mingle with people of various cultures as she believes that we all can learn a lot by sharing our unique experiences and world views with each other.