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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Learning a New Language

As usual the days, no the weeks...no, in fact, the month has gotten away from me.  I did return to the Martizay French class and had a blast teaching this terrific, enthusiastic group basic English. It brought to light one fundamental fact, however.

With the profusion of Brits in this region and the dearth of Americans, it is as if oftentimes we speak a different language. I bumped up against this in the French class when I realized the vernacular I took for granted wasn't quite so common because the French learn British style English. A sweater to Americans is a pullover to Brits; pants to them are underwear while our version of pants are what they call trousers; what we call suspenders they call braces and what they call suspenders are something men wear to keep their socks from falling down. Suit vests to us are waistcoats to them; their version of a vest is an undershirt.

Since I've moved to France, I'm learning an entirely different language   English. And I'm someone who's grown up with a reasonable exposure to Irish English so I'm hardly as uninitiated as the typical American. I grew up reading English and Irish books and spending summers in Ireland. My mother still remembers how cross she was one September  when one of us   either my sister, Eithne, or I   had been marked off on a spelling test for writing 'colour' instead of 'color.' (Of course our revenge was going on to become local and state spelling bee champions respectively at the age of 14 at that same school.)

Now, surrounded by Brits, I've found myself adopting much of the dialectic slang, a sort of 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do' communication attempt. I stop off to fill my car with petrol, I reach for kitchen roll instead of paper towels, cling film instead of plastic wrap, aluminium instead of aluminum foil, and indicate something's a one-off when it happens but once.

Expressions I still struggle with are numerous: rawlplugs instead of anchors (the plastic plugs you put into plaster when you drill holes to hang pictures and such; rawlplug is apparently a trade name, much as using Kleenex or Xerox in lieu of tissues and photocopies); a crosshead is  a Phillips screwdriver while a slotted screwdriver is what we call a flathead. Aren't all screwdrivers technically slotted?

Words that are not readily apparent are the ones that naturally baffle me the most. "That's completely naff," has me running for the internet dictionary to remind myself that it means inferior, less than desirable or, in more extreme applications, an alternate to one of the more internationally recognized four-letter words. 'I'm chuffed' always makes me pause because it means you're delighted when somehow to me it sounds like I'm chafed or completely annoyed.

Some that are at least potentially fathomable are 'taking the piss out of someone' (making fun of them), or 'chucking it down' (it's raining hard).

It's no wonder that I'm still struggling here to learn French. I'm still learning English!

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