Decoding Accents with Janhavi Panwar

English is the most commonly used language internationally and has become the world’s lingua franca. English is not just the language used for international trade but also for education in most universities overseas. Learning the language, the right diction and accent hence has many advantages.

Janhavi Panwar often referred to as the Wonder Girl of India, was the guest on The Navhind Times talk show, Talk from the Heart, which aired on the Goa 365 channel on Sunday, July 24. An accent trainer and a motivational speaker, Janhavi who is originally from Samalkha, Haryana, is fluent in 9 different English accents as well as 5 languages.

Language and academics go hand-in-hand for Janhavi and a few years ago she stunned the world with her intelligence, when she completed her senior secondary school at the age of 13 and went on to become a 16-year-old graduate as she completed her undergraduate studies from Delhi University. At present she is 18 and has just answered her MA examinations.

Recounting what prompted her to take up languages and accents, she shared, “When my father, a government school teacher used to go for interviews in metropolitan cities, those who spoke fluent English had an edge and since he was not very fluent in the language and had a Haryanvi accent, he lost out on many opportunities. He decided then that he would ensure his children would learn the language and accent correctly.” Hence from the age of 3, began Janhavi’s training. “Even though my father was not very fluent, he made it a point to speak in English to me. This helped me build a good vocabulary and was the building block for my journey ahead,” she said.

With the help of BBC videos which her father bought her, she began to learn the British accent and intonation. Her father also attempted to enrol her in the different UK and US English speaking courses and also went to embassies to help her learn more about the language. “Since the minimum age of admission was 16 years, I was not eligible to enrol for courses but where there is a will there is a way! My dad found a linguist, Rekha Mahajan who helped me move forward,” she stated.

British, American, Cockney, Posh, RP, Australian, Norfolk, Scottish and Canadian are the 9 different accents that Janhavi is at present fluent in besides learning French, Spanish and Japanese. Explaining the difference between RP and the British accent, she said, “The phonetic transcriptions are different, their syllable stress and diphthongs too are different.” To learn any new language and accent, learning the phonetics first, she said is important.

Asked which accents were the easiest and toughest to master, she answered, “American was really easy as Americans keep it very chilled and laidback. They let words just slip out of their mouth whereas Scottish was rather challenging as they pronounce their Rs very differently. I, however, found it the most intriguing and interesting accent by far.

Learning accents has many benefits and highlighting one such advantage, she said, “When you speak to people in their own accent, they connect better with you. The communication becomes easier and understanding each other too improves tremendously.” She also listed various career opportunities that are open today to language and accent trainers. “When I started learning accents, there were hardly any trainers hence I would like that youngsters have a platform where they can learn easily and accurately,” she added.

Janhavi who is also a motivational speaker spoke about her various talks and experiences. At the core of her talks, is the message that every failure/criticism/judgement makes us stronger and teaches us new things. “I faced a lot of flak from people due to my accents but I believe criticism is a way to find loopholes inside us and to seek new ideas and opportunities from those negative comments. Criticism is important to understand different viewpoints otherwise people will move in the same direction and not explore new ideas. The most important thing for everyone is to have faith in yourself as it will lead you to success and help us achieve great heights.