To Speak or Not to Speak; Don’t Ask me the Question

Post by Elom Tettey-Tamaklo

The power of voice and expression is something that has always intrigued me. From toddlers attempting speech for the first time to full- blown professional theatrical pieces, the ability to express various emotions and accomplish otherwise mundane tasks through voice is something I have always admired.

“One of the largest mammals found in water is the hippopotamus”, I exclaimed to my 12 seminar mates proudly (as if I had discovered the cure to cancer). Without warning, a sudden awkward silence enveloped the class, replacing the jovial and somewhat ‘safe’ space that often characterized class discussions.  I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what its was. Did the lettuce in my lunch sandwich betray my pearly whites? Was something wrong with my face?  A plethora of thoughts rushed through my mind. Was it something I said? It suddenly hit me! Of course it was something I said! I had pronounced hippopotamus as Hee-Poh-Poh-Tay-Mos and that was not ‘right’- whatever ‘right’ was. This was the genesis of my experience with the ‘wrong’ voice.

when the realization of one’s difference stifles personality, creativity, intelligence and comfort, something needs to be done urgently.

Coming to Haverford College as an international student, I had always been intimidated and even ashamed sometimes by the strikingly different accent that poured out of my mouth every time I spoke. From pronouncing waderrrr as wha-ta to enunciating the – J – in Fajita, my accent was, and is still is, a stark reminder of my difference. This made me uncertain about speaking up in class- even when I knew I had important contributions to make. Even in social settings I would always hold back and rehearse my few lines of speech over and over again before I actually said anything. I couldn’t afford to be the ugly duckling, especially in a place like Haverford, where our diversity index is somewhat malnutritioned and in serous need of resuscitation. My situation is not a peculiar one and many other internationals or different -accented individuals face this constantly.

I must admit however, that it is almost normal to face this kind of pressure, especially in a liberal arts college where there is a major emphasis on communication. However, when the realization of one’s difference stifles personality, creativity, intelligence and comfort, something needs to be done urgently. However, this epiphany didn’t hit me until I began to behave like a mute. I retreated into my shell, refused to associate and explore opportunities simply because heads would always turn when I spoke. I would not speak up in class and dreaded the idea that the teacher may call on me to speak. With such a big personality ready to burst out, I felt I was slowly being suffocated. At this point I decided to put all fears behind me and speak up!

This deliberate decision to speak up was reflected in class, my social spaces and even outside the college parameters. I would still rehearse the lines sometimes but always make sure that they never remained unvoiced opinions. The first couple of times, my voice would oscillate so much, I sounded like a broken record. However, as I kept speaking and telling myself that my opinions were as valid as anyone’s, I realized I became more comfortable asking for a cup of wha-ta or making my observations about the Hee-Poh-Poh-Tay-Mos without repenting for sounding different. I must say it hasn’t suddenly become a piece of cake to speak, but it has definitely gotten better and is steadily getting better. So the next time you feel as though you shouldn’t speak up because you fear you’ll sound silly or awkward, understand that your opinion matters and is valuable even when it may not be the conventional voice; after all your differing sound makes Haverford a more colorful place!

-Until Next Time,



One thought on “To Speak or Not to Speak; Don’t Ask me the Question

  1. Elom, I enjoyed reading this highly relatable piece. 🙂 I’m quite sure sometimes the silence you perceive after you’ve spoken is silent admiration and it’s always lovely to listen to you. I’m glad you found a way to re-introduce your voice because we have a lot to learn from you.

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