By Harry Pearse
“Morning mate, you okay?” I say in my deep London accent. The American receptionist just looks at me and replies, “I’m fine thanks— mate,” and chuckles. I realize that I sounded extremely English (or Australian—what’s the difference?). The Yanks don’t really say “mate,” but I say it all the time. I am still getting to grips with what Americans understand and what they don’t when I speak. However, I sometimes don’t understand them either. Americans seem to say “what’s up” instead of “pardon” or “excuse me” when they didn’t hear the question properly. Which, (I know) sounds very posh and upper-class English, but when they say this, I don’t know whether to tell them how I am and what my day has been like or whether I should just repeat the question. Do other international students have the same problem with dialect as I do? This is what I want to find out from this week’s column.
There are many international students who, obviously, have a language barrier because English is their second language. Well, let me tell you guys… I also have a language barrier. Although I am from England, there is barely a sentence that I say to an American where they won’t be baffled at what I have just said. Don’t we speak the same language? After being here for six weeks, I’ve discovered that we don’t!
For example, I was walking past a car a week or two ago, with a few of my American friends, and I said, “Look at those scratches on that car’s boot and bonnet!” They looked at me, “Huh…?” Of course they don’t use this lingo. A boot in America is called a trunk, and a bonnet is called the hood.
However, I tell myself: “It is just the Americans that don’t understand what I say” (although they do think I’m from Australia), but it is in fact also my fellow Brits and countrymen that don’t. I’m always being taken the mick out (meaning to be made fun of or teased) by my fellow teammates Tom Bowen, Jason Lampkin and Alex Billington about my heavy London accent, which can sometimes come out a bit Cockney or upper-class, different ends of the spectrum I know.
Apparently, I sometimes don’t pronounce my H’s… “‘Ello,” “‘Ow are you?,” which I find bizarre because my name, Harry, begins with the letter ‘H’. I also struggle with U’s in some words (but it’s best not to write them down in the school newspaper). Personally I don’t see it, but I’ve been told numerous times. So, is it me that doesn’t speak English? Or are these Northerners, Tom, Jason, Alex, just different, which is what us Southerners in England think?
[In an American voice]: “Haaarry, what color paaants are you wearing tonight?” This is what an American mate of mine said to me. I replied, “Probably just white boxers, mate.” Okay, so can anyone see the confusion here? In England pants are briefs. I don’t wear briefs, so being a bit of a “helmet,” I thought it was a weird question! What my friend meant to say was [in English]: “What color jeans or trousers are you wearing tonight?”
Another example comes from one of my house-mates Alfred Lindberg, a soccer player from Sweden. He said the first time he came to the U.S. a couple of years ago, he had to get used to the different types of slang that all these different cultures use. Being part of an athletic team, he has been witness to all of these many jargons. Alfred also went to say, that in Sweden they are taught the British English, so when he said to his old American coach, “Do we play much football in the autumn?” his coach was extremely confused.
These are just struggles from a “tool” of a Brit and a sophisticated Swede, so I cannot imagine the struggles that maybe a Chinese or Japanese student must have, especially with the cultural shock they must be facing since the move over the Pacific.
I am making an extra effort to use and understand certain American terms, such as “pinnies” (bibs) and “soccer” (football). So collectively as international students, I think we should try and be part of this intriguing dialogue, which was created after the success over the “lobster backs” in 1783. And although when the Americans go abroad they speak e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y slowly (like we are dumb), let’s embrace this culture and encircle the American Dream we are all living here at Post.
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