Lost in translation: One language, two different worlds

By Isobel Haynes | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Imagine pausing your life at the drop of a pin, taking all your belongings, putting them in suitcases, and moving to another country. You’re beyond stressed, you’re beyond worried, and frankly, you’re scared. The only comfort you have is that the country that you have to move to speaks the same language as you do. Or at least, that’s what you thought.

Specifically, that’s what I thought. After picking up my young life easy by the lack of a language barrier. Now, it has been ten years since this move, and I’m still learning how wrong my assumption was. Granted, both countries do speak English. Yet, not every version of English is the same. Throughout my decade of inhabiting this foreign world, minor discrepancies are still made apparent between the two versions of English that are spoken around me, those two being British and American.

For example, when my grandparents come to visit and we go out to the grocery store, the chip aisle is not my friend. In England, chips are French fries. American chips are called “Crisps” in England. So, when two of my countrymen come to visit, you can imagine the confusion. And then, when my grandparents want tea and biscuits at a café, you should see the looks they get. Because, of course, in America biscuits are these little savory breakfast items that people line around the block to eat at Maple Street. But to me, and the rest of England, they’re cookies. And the phrase “cookie” doesn’t come around much where I’m from.

Giving my poor grandparents a rest, there are other language barriers that I encounter on a day to day basis. Another example is that I support two football teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chelsea FC (please, opinions to ourselves). Now, depending on what country I’m in will decide what football team I talk about. In America, you refer to the sport football as “soccer,” which shakes me to my very core. And of course, you can imagine the enraged American voices when I refuse to use the word soccer.

Now, all the examples I’ve given have been small, nothing life threatening at all. There are a few language differences that I have encountered before as a bystander that can really have a bad outcome. For all the smokers in the room (who I assume are standing next to the elephants in the room), if you’re an English smoker then you retreat outside a few times a day for a “fag.” This word is taboo, unspoken in America–and for good reason. In America, it’s a slur. I have seen this encounter many times between a Brit and an American, and I have seen every one of these encounters end in a rushed explanation of language barriers. Despite the popularization of British media that swept America a few years ago, there is still a lack of knowledge that the different languages exist.

So, imagine learning a language throughout your entire life–imagine your parents putting in all that effort to teach you English–to then move to a country and realize you must learn some of it all over again. Everybody knows that English is already one of the most irritating languages, and I had to learn it twice. Its effects are apparent in every aspect of your life. It makes being social difficult at times because after people take all the time out of the conversation gushing over your accent, they then take the time to point out every different word that you use. It makes it hard to ask someone how their weekend was. You become scared to raise your hand in class after being corrected eight times the day before. People begin to lose their temper with you, even yell at you, because you still haven’t gotten the hang of American yet. It’s discouraging, to say the least.

The examples that I have shown you today are just a handful of the plethora of words that I had to learn. In fact, I could write all day about the differences in words, and how they affect a conversation between myself and my peers. I had the advantage of moving to the states at such a young age that it was easy for me to pick up on these words. However, many of my relatives still have a difficult time adapting when they come to visit me. In fact, even my parents still have trouble correcting their words from time to time. But I will still sit in the back of the class snickering at the differences, I will still help my family correct their “American English,” and I will still continue to take note of every different word and adding it to my collection, which now, has reached two volumes in length.

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