The VOyes Story: English
I hope you are following my seven shades of languages and how this is helping me shape up my voice over expertise. If you haven’t read the first instance, read here to find out why Bengali as the first language helped me to have a range of sounds ready in my vocal box to adopt other languages easily. In today’s instance – I will share stories on English, the 2nd language which I was exposed to and some observations around stereotypes.
Again a fact not known to many, that English is taught in schools in Bangladesh from as early as class 1 and this is not a new phenomenon. Other than being exposed to English grammar and literature in all levels of educational establishments, I was exposed to the usual English language movies and music of the 80s and 90s which aided greatly to the comprehension of this international language of the world. So we watched Hollywood movies not using any sub-titles. What Tom, Dick and Harry might have seen in London or Los Angeles – we heard the same dialogues. May be the movies were available after 6 months – but that is a different story.
In countries like India where 22+ major languages are spoken, English is the official language which binds together this diverse population and it goes without saying that many Indians are exposed to atleast 3 if not more – Indian languages since a very early age. I have come across many Indians whose first language is English i.e. they speak in English at home with parents, families and friends.
It is obvious that watching English movies and TV serials in American English accent, while accompanying dad and grand-dad while they used to watch the BBC news and while swaying with friends listening to our favorite Guns’ N Roses of Def Leppard numbers and eventually exposed to the Indian accent of the English heard in Indian satellite channels – all had a super combination of English language in all its variations and accents. A total immersion thanks to technology and exposure from all directions and no visit to United States or UK was required to have a grasp on English.
Soon typical stereotypes were experienced with regards to my fluency over the English language in all its four forms (written, listening, spoken, reading) and this is faced even today in the realm of voice overs.
How come you speak English (and so well): Funnily enough, United Kingdom being one of the two countries in Europe where English is spoken (other being Ireland), all other Europeans are free to visit, work, live here without any requirement to prove their English language skills. Yes surely Brexit is causing a lot of confusion but it also points to the fact that so many non-Europeans like myself had to go through English proficiency examinations like IELTS to prove that we are efficient in all forms of the English language – Written, spoken, listening and reading.
Inspite of having historic ties with UK due its colonial pasts, English is the language spoken in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even in India. It still amuses me when I get asked questions that (Visible that you are not white and assuming you are not born in US, UK, Australia, NZ, Canada) how come your English is so fluent? Well, my English is so good because I worked hard for it.
The question of nativity: Another stereotype that is staunch is around the term ‘native’. I wonder who else is more ‘native’ in the USA other than the Red Indians? Or who else is more Australian native than the indigenous people who used to live there? There is an assumption that people who are born in certain countries are the absolute masters of the language spoken in that country. I have come across too many locally born English ‘natives’ whose knowledge of grammar and spelling of English words will make passing examinations like IELTS rather an uphill task for themselves to clear. Hard to imagine how one proves their ‘being native’ in English language in the context of a voice over job, show the passport or just produce a demo reel to see who is at par?
English (and any other language) is like flowing water and can not only be heard (through a voice over) but also can be written, spoken and read. Voice over is a performing art where the artist is expected to perform by playing with the tunes and tones of the words and sounds of the language and using his vocal repertoire of chords to dish out the symphony and to convey the intended message. Assuming that only one certain group of performers have the holy grail just because their race or country of birth is a stereotype which will continue to exist in the voice over domain unless I keep proving otherwise.