English as a foreign language?

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“We don’t speak English, we speak American”

Once upon a time I was in Costa Rica trying to buy an ice cream. A simple enough task, surely? However, the ice cream seller couldn’t understand my Spanish, which really wasn’t bad in those days.

I tried English but he couldn’t understand that either. I slowed down my English – but didn’t raise my voice, I’m not that Brit!

He insisted, “No, we don’t speak English here, we speak American.”

Hmm. OK then.

So I put on a (dreadful) American accent and, self-consciously asked for an “ass creeem”!

I got my ice cream…

Here are some more comments about languages and misunderstandings from our wonderful discussion about language on Facebook recently. (Please do come and join my lovely Facebook Group so you can join in our chats!)

Laura: Living in Serbia, Serbs who actually speak English have accused me of not speaking real English. I’m American, I do have an American accent, but I speak proper English, albeit *American* English. Nooo they say, it doesn’t sound right.


Judy: I took the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course in Dubai and in my class we had British, Canadian, American, Indian, Maltese – you can imagine the debates we had on pronunciation, vocabulary verb tense, etc.
Also, my Russian teacher in Baku (who taught English as her day job) once asked me if “ASK” was pronounced Ask (with a flat A) or Ahhsk (long A). She wasn’t happy when I told her “both” it just depends on where you come from. She wanted just one “right” answer.


Claire: toilet, washroom, bathroom, loo… In Germany you can’t say someone is ‘in the toilet’ because that means they’re literally in the bowl and that always seems to provoke some hilarity if an English speaker says it… The (English) kids in my class in the UK used to ask me if they could ‘go for a toilet’ which I always found funny.


And even other languages can be confusing when you think you know the translation:

Expatriate Archive Centre: One British expat living in the Netherlands thought how wonderful that there was free (“vrij”) parking. But this actually means that there are vacant spaces, not that it doesn’t cost anything! I have since heard that this is a common source of confusion.


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