Speaking English English


Richard and I had a good laugh when one of us referred to a black person as an African American for the first (and last) time.

Before we came over here Richard had a few phone calls with other members in his group at KPMG and someone told him that it took several months for him to be able to understand the English people.  When Richard told me this I assumed it was because of their accents.  British accents have been hard to understand, but what really keeps me from communicating easily with the people around me is that they use phrases and words I am unfamiliar with, my brain isn’t expecting them and I spend a lot of time staring blankly in confusion at the store clerk or bus driver.  I first have to sort through the accent to get the words, and then I have to decipher the meaning of the words.   I almost always ask two or three time “I’m sorry, what was that?”

For example, at a restaurant in the U.S. someone would ask “Here or to go?”  Whereas here they ask “Eat in or take away?”

They also ask questions differently, with a tone of suspense or expectation at the end.   It reminds of me of Spanish speaking missionaries who come home and ask questions using the same words of a statement but the manner of speaking makes it a question.   

Instead of “Have you been happy here in London?”  They say “You’ve been happy here in London, yeah?” 

They also speak softly, Richard and a friend joked the other day about how he can always tell the British people from the South Africans on a conference call because the British are so hard to hear.  A friend of mine at church told me that the best thing I could do to sound less American would just be to dial down my volume a bit.  Easier said than done of course. 

These are only a couple of things I picked up on so far and I’m sure there will be more.  Here is a list the kids and I came up with of translations: 

Bathroom: Toilet, Loo, WC
Car: Carriage
Stroller: Buggy, pushchair
Garbage: Rubbish
Pants: Trousers
Trunk: Boot
Shopping cart: Trolley
Mom: Mum
Diaper: Nappie
Rent: Hire
Line: Queue
Chips: Crisps
Fries: Chips
Parking Lot: Car park
Elevator: Lift
Yard: Garden
Popsicles: Ice lollies
Mail: Post
Exit (verb): Alight
Exit (noun): Way out 
Soccer: Football
Freeway: Motorway
TV: Telly

I’m sure we’ll come up with more as time goes on.  

In addition to British accents we encounter a lot of French, Nigerians, Portuguese and Brazilians, Irish, Scottish and South Africans.  I’ve made it a personal challenge to sort through various accents and try to place them when I hear them.  The easiest way to do this is to think of someone I know and compare their voices.  For example, at church one of the speakers sounded a lot like Jo, our agent, and so I suspected he was from South Africa, and I was right! Scottish and Irish are pretty easy to place too because I can think of which Downton character they resemble most. 

Does anyone have any experience with these sorts of lingual obstacles?

One thought on “Speaking English English

  1. I love hearing about all your interesting experiences, Jo. Even more, I love your crazy time zone because new posts come in the middle of the night when I’m feeding Benson! Don’t stop sharing with us.


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