HK Magazine: Why start an American accent class? Tim Laubach: When I first arrived here I was teaching at a British school and they asked me to teach British English. I wasn’t very comfortable doing that. When I asked the children in the class which way they preferred and which way they wanted to learn, many of them said they really liked the way Americans said words: it was easier for them. I decided to open my own tutoring center based on that. HK: What do you mean by “American accent”? There are loads! TL: We usually shoot for American neutral, or American Northeast: places like New York, New England, Pennsylvania. Personally, I’m from Pennsylvania, and that accent is pervasive in the US, anywhere from Maryland all the way through to Maine. HK: Can’t we just watch movies? TL: People can watch movies, but many people watch American movies and they still don’t have American accents. When you watch a movie, you’ll hear the difference but you don’t know how to say the difference. So we train people on the mouth shapes that they need to have, and the vowel and consonant sounds that they need in order to speak with the correct accent. HK: Why are people in Hong Kong switching from learning the UK accent to the American accent? TL : I think it’s mainstream television and music, which is very heavily based on American culture. That gives people a pretty heavy motivation to learn the American accent. Prior to the handover it was always the BBC, but now you can get a lot more access to American shows, via the Internet or television. HK: What do Hong Kong parents associate with the American accent? TL: I don’t know: hamburgers? Hamburgers and fat people? I don’t know what they associate with the accent! Most parents think that the world is changing, and they think about Obama and American culture, and they want their kids to learn that. They’re looking at how the world will be in 10 or 20 years. On the other hand, children associate the accent with Disney. HK: Why do lots of women swoon over men with British accents? TL: I’m not a woman so I don’t know how to answer that! But I do know that the British accent is quite popular in American television as well, and many women I know really enjoy that accent. It could be because it’s more exotic and more difficult to find a man with a British accent in the US. HK: Do you think the Chinese accent will one day become more prestigious? TL: Possibly. China’s rising fast in the business world; they’ve been doing amazingly in the last decade or two. For the foreseeable future it looks as though they’re going to gain power, so I think that there’s a chance that Chinese or Chinese-English will become more popular. I don’t know if we’ll be alive when that happens. HK: Do you think your accent affects your chances of success in Hong Kong? TL: Fluent English does. But a specific accent, I’m not sure. But if you’re going to send your children to another school or you’re going to work overseas, then it definitely does. I think that there are certain accents that are frowned upon throughout the world, such as the Spanish-English or Asian-English accents, because they usually clip the vowel sounds: in the US they’re mocked pretty heavily. I don’t think it’s justified, but they are. If you have an accent, people will assume that you are not as wealthy and that you do not have good connections. I can’t fix the stereotype—but I can fix the accent. Want your kid to talk right? Visit www.americanenglishworkshop.com .