The Trials of Travel: Losing English

The longer I spend outside of America, the worse my English gets. That might sound funny, but I promise you it happens.

A certain number of “what?’s” “huh?’s” and confused looks later you start to learn what words ESL speakers, Aussies and British people just don’t understand, and you start to cut them out of your vocabulary to communicate more effectively.

After months of speaking English words in the sentence structure of other languages and eliminating both advanced words and slang, sometimes I don’t even understand the English that comes out of my own mouth.

Oftentimes in a country where the general population speaks a minimum of English, you begin to move towards basic caveman speak just to be understood. “Me” you say pointing at yourself, “ticket…please” finishing with a big smile and hoping you’ve gotten the message across.

The last line of this sign says "Please check carefully your tickets. We can not accept complain after purchase"

The last line of this sign says “Please check carefully your tickets. We cannot accept complain after purchase”


A couple weeks ago in Cinque Terre, Italy I spent a few days with an American for the first time in over a month. He was in a similar situation and we were both thrilled. While eating gelato one night he summed it up pretty well: “How’s the peach?” I asked. “It’s very tart.” He replied. “Ahh that’s why I’m so excited to be spending time with an American. I don’t have to explain what tart means!” It was a very exciting moment for both of us.

In Florence I went out to dinner with two Australians and a French guy. While eating my pesto linguine I exclaimed, “This pesto is unreal!” to which I received a politely hidden furrowed brow followed by “So the pesto is good…?”

A couple weeks ago when texting my dad about my upcoming move to Amsterdam he asked me if any relatives of a family friend were living there to which I replied, “the aunt of Sandra lives there” to my own utter horror. A trend which has been continuing, I can’t seem to stop saying things like “Oh the son of my professor” instead of the more American “my professor’s son”.

I have now swapped the words college and school for “university” because I really can’t bring myself to say uni. I now understand “peckish” to mean hungry, “mad” to mean crazy, “spew” to mean vomit and “crazy as” to mean super crazy and sometimes I even find myself using them that way.

Luckily sometimes you can just point at what you want to buy.

Luckily sometimes you can just point at what you want to buy.

All in all my English has morphed dramatically to include British and Australian slang, some badly translated expressions and often words said in a very weird order. I frequently get stuck in the middle of a sentence unsure how to continue in a way that makes sense to anyone. However, as I lose my own language I begin to better understand people from all over the world.

While some native English speakers have accents so thick I have to ask them to repeat sentences three times, I can now communicate much more effectively with a much larger number of people. My hand gestures and facial expressions are becoming better communicators and my attention to context clues has improved heaps.

When I return home I’m sure my slang will return quickly as I try to weed out the weird words I’ve incorporated into my vocabulary that no one understands in the States. Until then I’ll just keep bumbling through my own first language in an often embarrassing and humorous effort to be understood.

  8 comments for “The Trials of Travel: Losing English

  1. Carrie
    October 5, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Morgan, I LOVE reading your blogs! I hope to one day get to Europe to visit where my ancestors lived! I was babysitting one of my friends’ little girls (they are from Mexico) and I was folding laundry. She jumped in and began helping me fold….(she is 4 yrs old)…she was practicing her English and she said, “The underwear of Garrett”….”The shorts of Garrett”….the shirt of Carrie”…..soooo cute!
    I can’t wait for some Amsterdam stories! You are in my prayers…

    • Morgan Noll
      October 6, 2014 at 6:15 am

      Thank you!! That would be amazing. Haha see it is very not American of me but I can’t stop saying it!

  2. October 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Yup, I have this problem too- been travelling with a French girl for the last 3 weeks and find myself saying ‘I’m a bit scary’ (sacred) and other strange things which really don’t make sense. I’m sure you’ll pick it up again when you go home. 😉

    • Morgan Noll
      October 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one! Hahah the main goal is to be understood! Let’s hope we both readjust quickly 🙂

  3. November 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Yes! I first noticed this with American expats I met in Prague. One of them had dated an English guy for a while and had completely changed the way she asked questions. I mean, her tone of voice was just not matching her New York accent at all! Then there was the guy from Florida… jewish and educated, his English got worse with every month I knew him.. probably like you say, from being surrounded by Czech people whose English is well, a second or third language.
    As for me, I’ve learned to avoid words like “cookie, bisquit, cracker” because it seems to confuse the hell out of all British folks!
    A fun read – thanks!

    • Morgan Noll
      November 9, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      So glad you could relate! Yeah it’s a weird mix between establishing a new vocabulary while also changing your sentence structure that can make for some pretty funny sentences with an American accent. I’ve had to smile as I notice Americans swapping college for “uni” and bathroom for toilet, sometimes we even find ourselves speaking that way to each other out of habit which is definitely amusing. Haha I have gone down the cookie vs bisquit rabbithole too many times myself! I think you’re right, better to avoid it altogether.
      Anyway thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed!

  4. November 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    • Morgan Noll
      November 17, 2014 at 2:30 am

      So glad you enjoyed!Thank you so much!

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