"Did you study overseas? Your English is very good."
I get this a lot from people who met me for the first time. No, I'd gently correct them, I am a local product. No, I have never lived overseas in English-speaking countries. Short tour visits do not count, dammit.
Today, an American commented that I sounded, well, like an American.
This is particularly hilarious considering how I could barely read, much less speak English till I was 11. It helped to have a sadistic sister who took away all of my Malay storybooks one school holiday and made me read Nancy Drew in English. When she got tired of telling what the words mean (which was every five words and everything more than 4 alphabets), she tossed a dictionary in the general direction of my head and went into hiding.
There were no shortcuts, no amazing linguistic talent, unlike said sadistic sister who learned English by watching Sesame Street. I would watch the same thing she did and anything that didn't have subtitles (e.g. Fawlty Towers) was of no interest to me. But force me to read she did and lo, and behold! After three books, I could hobble along well enough sans dictionary. I proceeded to devour every Carolyn Keen, Trixie Belden and Enid Blyton books in my school library, disdaining the translated version.
You may think; why would I slog through the Nancy Drew when I could just give it up? It was so hard (though nowhere near the pain of passing a gallstone). Truth is, I could give up reading the way a smoker/alcoholic/drug addict would foreswear their poison of choice. It is a compulsion, an addiction that has gotten me into trouble numerous times, but still, stop I cannot.
How badly am I hooked? The next time you're stuck in traffic in Klang Valley, if you see a demented woman in the next car who is angling her book to get maximum light for reading? That is probably me.
But I digress.
Sounding American? That is a first for me. A close pal, whose first encounter with me was watching me give my honours thesis presentation, once said that her first impression of me was that I was a Singaporean; she wondered what was this Singaporean girl doing studying in Malaysia. Another schoolmate actually inquired if I was from Thailand; she said that I did not sound like a Malaysian when I speak Malay.
I will, reluctantly, acknowledge that I do have an accent; and it varies depending on how nervous I am. I could sound like I went to public school in England or like a German newscaster (beautifully accentless). What not many people know, is that the more nervous I am, the more foreign I sound. So yeah, that pseudo-Oxford whatsit? Usually comes out during interviews. :p
Really, if you have a small talent at mimicry, imitating people on tv shows aren't that hard. Especially when you know how the words are spelt.