Granted, I don’t hear as well as I did in my younger days, but I swear it’s getting more difficult for me to understand people who have thick accents in their speech. And by thick accents, I really mean people who were raised somewhere other than the Ozark hills.
I can remember traveling to Boston a few years ago to serve as best man for a good friend who had wandered off the reservation to wed a beautiful young lady from the New England area. Upon arrival to that fair city, I immediately became lost. Stopping at a convenience store to ask for directions, I was met with laughter, pointing and ridicule by a native Bostonian who asked me where in the world I was raised. At least I think that’s what he asked me. After his laughter subsided he pulled out a city map and pointed to my present location and said very emphatically, “HEYA.” Then he pointed to where he thought I had said I wanted to go and said, “THEYA.”
Eventually, I made it to the wedding on time, only to be the center of attention (my apologies to the bride) during the reception as people kept coming over and asking me to talk just for their amusement. I haven’t been back to Boston since.
I must admit that when I travel south, I usually don’t have as much trouble understanding people from Texas, Mississippi or Alabama. They certainly have an accent, but it is spoken at a much slower pace so that my feeble brain can usually decode their words by the time they complete a sentence. Y’all understand that, don’t y’all?
Speaking in Wisconsin to a group of farmers this past spring was a delightful experience. I could detect a few giggles when I first started speaking, but as long as you keep talking up the Green Bay Packers and asking for more cheese, butter and real cream for your coffee, they seem to be a very forgiving people. I could understand them pretty well because most every sentence contained either the word “Packers” or “cheese” and I could simply nod my head yes and utter, “Yah.”
Knowing about my personal language challenges might help you better understand what I’ve gone through this past week.
My wife thought I needed to upgrade my cell phone and purchased one of those new-fangled smart phones, even though I was just beginning to master the one she made me buy four years ago. Having some major issues with the new gadget, I made the mistake of calling the toll-free hotline number prominently displayed on the box from which it came. The female voice (I think) on the other end began saying something in what resembled English, but was interpreted by my brain to be, “Blah blah blah, blah blah.”
“Pardon me, Ma’am, could you repeat that please?” I asked in an ever-so-polite way.
“Ah sed, blah blah blah, blah blah.” She (I think) replied.
Having dealt with foreign employees of an out-sourced call center before, I apologized for not being able to understand her and blamed my difficulty on an obviously bad overseas connection. Very politely, I requested to be able to speak to someone from America. The woman (I was certain of her gender by this point) very slowly, and very loudly stated,
“No, Ma’am,” I replied quickly, “and I don’t seem to have a problem with my phone anymore, either. Thank you for your help.”
The good news is that I’ve since found out that my new smart phone has a language translator app that is supposed to take any language and convert it into English. The bad news is that it doesn’t take English and translate it into hillbilly.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry about his books, or to arrange speaking engagements, you may contact him by calling 1-866-532-1960 or visiting and clicking on ‘Contact Us.’


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