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July 15, 2020

THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH

 

For someone who talked way too much as a child, I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice.

High-pitched. Excitable. No sense of volume control. I had all the cadence of a reversing dump truck, with the only difference being that a dump truck has a reason to be loud. And at the time, I couldn’t help but compare my voice to the way my dad speaks.

Infectious. Cheeky. Effortlessly switching between Patois and English, with the energy of someone who could get away with anything.

And then I sounded like a hyena who’d picked up the English language? It was peak.

But my dad didn’t always speak like that.

Sat in the passenger seat of his Ford RS, with old school dancehall booming out of the speakers, I was enjoying a trip to the shops more than any eight-year old had the right to be. On the way there he quickly pulled over, turned the music down and asked a pedestrian if there was a petrol station nearby.

Thing is though, he sounded English. And I mean English English.

Now, this is nothing new. Immigrants and their 2nd generation with a strong understanding of an adopted language will often switch accents, depending on who they’re speaking to. 

But this was the first time I’d heard him do it, and it caught me off-guard. 

I looked at him. He looked at me, confused at why I was confused. When I asked why his voice had changed, he laughed and jokingly called it the ‘Queen’s English’, saying that it wouldn’t hurt for me to know it. 

6ft. Dreadlocks. The ‘Queen’s English’ would be the last thing anyone thinks of when they see my dad. 

And he knew that better than anyone. 

He has the self-awareness to understand how most people see him. And while there’s no chance he’s changing who he is for anyone anytime soon, that awareness does affect how he speaks to people. 

It’s something a lot of us will do on a basic level, without realising. Clock how your voice changes between when you speak to your parents, to speaking to your mates, to being on the phone to your bank, and you’ll hear what I mean.

We adjust either because of what we think people expect us to sound like, or what they don’t expect us to sound like. 

As people, we adjust so effortlessly. But when we speak for brands however, it feels like we have all the self-awareness of a Kanye West presidential campaign.

Nothing describes how brands and employers have reacted to 2020 so far than the saying ‘read the room’. Or, failing to.

Reading the room means acknowledging how cold and hollow redundancy news can sound coming from the top down, rather than through line managers or team leaders on a ground level.

Reading the room means football clubs applying to furlough their staff while showing off record figures for consecutive years, will never end well. Especially when your supporters are mostly Scousers.

Reading the room means realising who your brand’s statement on race relations is actually coming from. A brand. Not a person, or a group of people. But a name, and a logo. What this means is, no one person can be held accountable for following through on the suggested change. In this case, hearing from a founder or CEO would add a lot more credibility to your message.

Reading the room means being honest with who you are.

If you saw you, what would you expect to hear? How would you react if you didn’t sound like you expected yourself to? This reaction is crucial.

Now that I think back, I’m sure my dad didn’t have to change how he spoke. But knowing him, I’m sure he just would’ve gotten a laugh from the look on that pedestrian’s face.

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