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.
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.
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.