Books don’t have an accent

NicoleHeadShotWe are so excited to introduce you to Nicole Hein, who comes to us from our sister company Carlsen Verlag in Germany. She is spending a month at Hot Key Books through our inter-company exchange program.

Normally, she spends her days juggling projects and making lists at German children’s and YA publisher Carlsen. She can’t remember the last time she actually read a book for adults and spends most of her spare time baking, being geeky and travelling. England is the fourth English-speaking country she’s lived in…and the one that’s giving her the most trouble. 

British English stumps me. After living in the U.S., Canada and Australia, I still break out in cold sweat when a Brit starts talking to me.  Maybe it’s some deep-seated trauma from my graduation trip where I had my first encounter with actual Britons and realized studying “Oxford English” in school doesn’t prepare you for the real thing AT ALL. Or maybe it’s a congenital defect, because once my brain identifies a British accent, it just throws me a big, red sign saying “DOES NOT COMPUTE”.

So in preparation for my stint here at Hot Key I thought I needed to polish my British English listening skills a bit. How do you do that? You watch British television of course, preferably a show in which the actors don’t spend more time e-nun-ci-a-ting than acting. In my case, it was Law and Order: UK. Five seasons later, I felt exactly as prepared as I had before. Granted, I had spent more time ogling Jamie Bamber than actually paying attention to the plot, but you’d think something would have stuck. However, while I got a pretty vivid impression of all the ways people apparently get murdered on British television, I still have no idea what the characters spent a whole 45 minutes every episode talking about.

So I was understandably nervous when I boarded the plane that would bring me from Hamburg – where I usually spend my time working for Carlsen, one of Bonnier’s German children’s publishers when I’m not infiltrating interning at Hot Key Books – to London.

Now, after two weeks at the office, I still feel like people might as well speak Chinese for all I understand sometimes. When I don’t concentrate really hard on what is being said or people have conversations behind me, beside me or anywhere else that isn’t right in front of my face, I usually have no idea what’s going on. Which is kind of embarrassing.


But one thing’s been working perfectly since Day 1: Reading. I’ve read about half a dozen Hot Key Books in the past couple of weeks and I found them funny and touching and romantic and thought-provoking and sometimes even a little depressing. They had hopeful endings, endings that made me furious and endings that made we want to read MORE, but you know what they never had? An accent.

And that’s the great thing about books really, isn’t it? Whether they’re British or American or German or heck, maybe even Swedish – they might have different senses of humor and use different words for the same thing, but their essence always stays the same – no matter where THEY are from and no matter where YOU are from. A good book speaks to you on a level far beyond actual words. It brings people together who might otherwise not have a lot in common or – as in my case – don’t always completely understand each other on a more, well, literal level.

So I’ve realized it doesn’t actually matter if I don’t always “compute” every single thing that’s being said around or even to me at the office, because what brings us all together here is our love for great stories, for the written word that is universal to all of us. And whether your favorite character has an accent in your head, well, that’s totally up to you.


5 responses to “Books don’t have an accent

  1. Yes, welcome to my world! English is my first language, and I was totally petrified to speak for the first two months we lived here! I feel like I learn new words every day. And I get completely tickled by certain pronunciations, like “squirrel” for example. British people say squir-rel, and Americans say squirl (all one syllable). It’s hilarious!

    • Oh Amy – you and your amusement over squirrel! Great blog Nicole – very amusing. And hey, you know, at least we don’t have any Cockney’s in the office…!

  2. There are a few really strong accents in my school that can take a bit of getting used to. It makes phonics interesting – there can be a huge difference between the way pupils say the vowels when they’re sounding out a word compared to how they would say the word in conversation – guess that is part of the problem some of them have with learning to read through phonics!

  3. When I was doing my teacher training, we had a big debate about the usefulness of Phonics when students with northern UK accents said that Phonics really wouldn’t make sense in classrooms back home. I mean, how to do YOU pronounce the ‘a’ in ‘bath’? Do you say ‘b-ar-th’ or ‘b-ah-th’? And do you end up teaching the phonic as read, and then phonics as spoken in your region of the world? How do you get round the accent barrier?

    Utterly fascinating discussion, but no real answer. Don;t get me wrong though – I love accents and only wish my own wasn’t so boring!

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