Edinburgh Day 3: The Joy of Accents

November 3rd, 2012 by Laura Longley

I recently joined Toastmasters in Seattle. I have realized that part of my calling, or purpose, is to do public speaking. I’m already comfortable speaking in front of a group, but I wanted to get a little more polished and I knew Toastmasters could help me with that.

Because I only started going to Toastmasters a few weeks before the beginning of my trip to Edinburgh, I thought it would be a good idea to visit some Toastmasters chapters while on my trip. A couple of weeks before my trip, I contacted two of the Edinburgh clubs, and was welcomed to come to both clubs’ meetings.

One of the clubs, the Waverly Communicators, welcomed me with such grace, that they even offered to assign me a role for the meeting. As any of you who have attended Toastmasters knows, there are about 10 roles that cycle through members each week. The role I was assigned was that of “Ah Counter.”

The Ah Counter does just that: counts the number of times that speakers use words like ah, um, so, and, you know to fill in speech where they are not needed. The Edinburgh club has a buzzer that the Ah Counter presses whenever she hears one of these words.

A Warm Welcome

When I arrived I was greeted warmly by the president of the club and shown to my station at a table at the back of the room. I settled in there, and proceeded to hold court before the meeting began.

The club had added me to their member website, so quite a few people knew who I was and that I was visiting Edinburgh. A number of the regular members came by to greet me and say hello. I did feel as if I was holding court, with people (almost) literally lined up to shake my hand and introduce themselves.

My table-mate was the Timer, and she and I had a nice time getting to know one another. It was my first time in the role of Ah Counter, and it was her first time as the Timer. I think we were both a little nervous about performing our roles well.

Was that an “Ah” or your Accent?

Once the program began I became intent on listening for those speech fillers I was supposed to be counting and buzzing in when I heard. It was really hard! Much more so than I had expected. And, as a guest I was a little reluctant, to use the buzzer erroneously.

The first problem was that most people spoke very quickly. By the time I heard an ah or eh or um, they were into the next sentence. It seemed rude to buzz after the fact, so I just wrote down what I had heard.

But by far what made this the most difficult for me were the accents. Not only was I the only American there, but each person who spoke seemed to have a different type of accent. Sometimes I had to listen very intently just to understand the words they were saying. Never mind trying to distinguish if they were using an um or an er improperly!

There was such a variety of accents it made me wonder if they sometimes had difficulty understanding one another. Or maybe it is more like a Southern or New Jersey accent is to someone from the West Coast in the US. It’s a distinct accent, but easily understood for the most part.

At any rate, this was a complication I had not expected! I feel a little that I fell down on the job in my role, but it was quite fascinating for me to have to really listen closely to understand what was being said at times.

In my report at the end of the meeting I confessed to this difficulty, and of course got a laugh from the other members. It did make me wonder if they had to listen as closely to me as I did to them.

All in all, it was a fun experience and once I’m glad I chose. Once again I felt very welcome and included. This is fun!


2 Responses

  1. Melissa says:

    I know exactly what you mean! When I was in Italy it was a bit of the opposite. I often wondered how odd it sounded to Italians listening to a bunch of foreigners speaking their language with all kinds of funny accents. Ironically, all of us foreigners could understand one another without an issue. I think the native speakers were the ones who had to really listen at times 😉 Accents are fun, and I’m glad you’re having a good time with it.

    • It’s so fun to here other people’s stories, Melissa. Accents ARE fun, and it has been interesting in that it also makes me really listen to what the other person is saying. Similar to what you encountered in Italy, Edinburgh also has a lot of transplants from other countries. For instance the woman who owns the flat where I’m renting a room is Spanish, but has been here for 16 years. I think partly because it has a big university it attracts people from all over, so there’s another added dimension to the accent situation. It defintitely keeps me on my toes!

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