English as a foreign language

Taking the biscuit

A close gal pal of mine lives and works in the Big Apple. I am, of course, insanely jealous. My friend inhabits a chichi apartment block just off Columbus Circle and walks to the office every morning through streets that are instantly recognisable to any aficionado of US film and TV drama; what’s not to envy? That said, although I often imagine myself in her shoes – ambling through Soho, meeting glamorous people for drinks on a rooftop terrace in Tribeca and collecting some tempting treats from Dean and Deluca for a picnic in Central Park – there is the small issue of the language barrier.

‘Say what?’ I hear you ask. ‘Everyone in America speaks English, don’t they?’

Well, yeah, after a fashion. What we actually do is employ (mostly) the same words but sometimes with wildly different connotations. In the UK, our uniquely nuanced use of language coupled with a national talent for deprecating our own and others’ efforts and topped off with a paralysing fear of causing offence results in a perfect storm of potential transatlantic misunderstanding. My friend has to be pretty precise when discussing work issues for fear of creating the wrong impression. Just imagine if the next time you told a colleague you’d ‘bear their ideas in mind’, they actually thought you would.


language matrix

Diane Nowell
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2 thoughts on “English as a foreign language

  1. Hi Diane
    Loved your article English as a Foreign Language. Yes, it reminds me how little I have learned in the past 32 years in England. (Now, what does she mean by that?)

    1. Hi Helyn. It’s amazing how nuanced language is and how much we take for granted in everyday conversation. No wonder misunderstandings arise between people who think they share a common language, yet have a different contextual experience. I suspect you’ve probably picked up plenty of British foibles in the last 32 years, though!

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