I was lucky enough to study with very smart people around me. They were so smart that multitasking became a part of their school life: besides trying to cope with their own tasks they would also manage to notice each and every one mistake of someone sitting next to them.
I started getting first comments about my awful pronunciation in English in grade 6. Later after I had officially disclosed my intention to study linguistics (which my life kept me away from), my classmate M. rolled her eyes and commented: “Nastja, with your accent??? Are you sure?!” M. was taking classes from a tutor from Cambridge at that time (according to her) and knew for sure how the “proper English” should sound.
So, being quite demotivated I even decided once to explore my tongue in the mirror: somehow I heard that my cousin had done an operation on the frenulum of his tongue in order to excel his pronunciation in German, following his dream to become an interpreter.
At the University things changed – students around me appeared to be way smarter. They would simply express out loudly what they were thinking about people who were talking in front of foreigners with this terrible Russian accent. And it was very, very shameful. In this case I would keep my mouth shut and think how scary it actually was to say “ZE” instead of “THE” in front of all these English-speaking Russians.
And then I started travelling. In fact, accents of other people never create a problem for me – as long as I understand what I’m expected to (making fun of accents though, including my own, has always been a pleasure, as much as making fun of any exaggerated national characteristics). At some point I started considering accents cute and started questioning, why Russian/Chinese/Italian/French and whatsoever MUST pronounce English words perfectly, if he/she speaks it at all. The accent became something like a measure of your education level or intellectual ability. Such factors like genetics, or early life experience, which are referred to by experts when explaining an ability to overcome an accent more or less successfully – it all doesn’t matter. You dared to speak English – speak properly!
My school accent is definitely lost. Instead I picked up couple of other accents on the way and an unrecognizable mixture was created. The fact is – it doesn’t bother me much anymore. I know, that I’m understandable 🙂