English Around the World

Every country which speaks English has their own interpretation of the language. This isn’t surprising where English is spoken as a second language – translating colloquialisms and grammar from one language to another can definitely create some interesting phrasing. This isn’t unique, however, where English isn’t the native language. Countries which share English as their national language have some issues as well. If a British man goes to America and asks for chips, he will expect french fries, but will be given what he knows as crisps. If an American goes to England and is asked if he would like some spag bol for dinner, he will likely be confused, not knowing that it’s just a nickname for spaghetti bolognese. American English and British English can sometimes leave native English speakers quite confused. Here are some of my favorites:

  • America = grilled cheese, Britain = cheese toasty
  • America = cupcake, Britain = fairy cake
  • America = period (.), Britain = full stop
  • America = sweatshirt, Britain = jumper
  • America = sneakers, Britain = tennies
  • America = dinner time, Britain = tea time (Americans…the question “What would you like for tea?” doesn’t mean what you think it does…)

In Kenya, both Swahili and English are the national languages. English is the language of education, so generally speaking, children who remain in school through middle school can speak English well. All business and official matters are conducted in English. They also have their own unique words and phrasing; my favorite was their use of I’m sorry. Here are some scenarios which caused people to apologize to me:

  • A friend and I were walking down the street in Nairobi. She accidentally stepped on my flip-flop causing me to step right out of it and my shoe to fly about 5 feet away. Before I even had the chance to be annoyed, 5 Kenyans came running over to me, trying to put my shoe on my foot and saying Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. It sounded a little like the seagulls in Nemo saying mine, mine, mine.
  • I stubbed my toe on the coffee table. Ohhh, sorry
  • I dropped my pencil. Ohhh, sorry
  • I sneezed. Ohhh, sorry
  • I spilled tea. Ohhh, sorry

The funny part is, they weren’t making fun of me for being klutzy, nor were they trying to help me clean up my mess. They just felt sorry that it happened to me in the first place, or maybe just were acknowledging that it happened. It was endearing. It was less endearing in the USA when I moved back and couldn’t stop apologizing. People thought I was crazy.

India is no exception to this rule. There are many English-medium schools which teach fluency in English at an early age. Fluency comes, however, in its own way with a specific pronunciation and particular words/phrases which aren’t really found anywhere else. Here are my favorites, some of which I have already built into my vocabulary (I’m sure my friends back in the US will be delighted).

  1. To reach – this is the first one I adopted – it is very common. To reach means to arrive at a place. Common uses include I’m reaching now or When will you reach? meaning either I’ve arrived, or When will you arrive.
  2. Even me – this means either me too, or me neither, depending on the context. Example:
    • Person 1: I think I will take a nap this afternoon.
    • Person 2: Even me, I will take a nap
    • Person 1: I don’t like this chicken.
    • Person 2: Even me, I don’t like.
  3. Coffee – as a person who is slightly addicted black, strong, bitter coffee, I sometimes struggle in India. Ordering coffee means instant coffee with milk and sugar. Proper coffee is called filter coffee and is hard to find. Black filter coffee is impossible to order – anyone knowing how to order a black coffee, please let me know, I would really appreciate it! Today I stopped at a fancy coffee place on my walk to work because I was craving an iced coffee and I was determined to walk away with a black, unsweetened, iced drink. After a couple of tries of explaining and continually being handed drinks with milk, I finally realized that all of their “coffee” drinks were really made with espresso – which explains the confusion. He was making me cappuccinos…to him this was “coffee.” The store didn’t actually make coffee. They made drinks with espresso OR instant coffee. I finally walked away with an iced Americano, which I considered a victory – close enough. It even came in a fancy bag with a little holder inside!IMG_1900
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