Usually if someone says this in the United States, there is an overly – sometimes ironically – patriotic sentiment attached to it. I picture an overweight white dude with a few rifles by his side brandishing a large American flag tattoo on his shoulder telling me this. “I speak American!” Usually in response to someone who is trying to speak another language besides English (excuse me, I mean American)*.
But in France, as I have found, some people find this to be the correct term to describe how I speak. I’ll be an English language assistant at three different places throughout the year, and I introduced myself at one of my schools today. It is a cute little school, modern and clean with five teachers for each grade and a preschool level as well.
Once I revealed I was from the United States, a couple of teachers discussed the language I’ll be teaching.
“Oh, so she speaks English.”
“No, she speaks American!” another teacher retorted, and they both agreed.
American English has a bit more of a pejorative connotation in France, for a couple of reasons. First off, French people are much more likely to go to England than the United States to practice their English, because it is right next door. It’s kind of comparable to learning Spanish from Spain instead of Spanish from Mexico in the United States. You can, but for the majority of students learning Mexican Spanish will probably be more practical.
Many French people also view the American accent as harsh, probably in the same vein as most Americans view the German language. I’ve had several people I’ve met here tell me they much prefer the British or New Zealand accent, as it sounds much prettier.
I actually quite agree, they do sound nicer than the typical American accent. That being said, I don’t speak in those pretty accents. So, what else can I say to the French? I guess I do speak “American” after all.
*In writing this I acknowledge that “America” does not just include the United States, but for lack of sensibly translated words that is what it refers to in this post.