English – One language, so many nuances

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´ºI first learnt English in the United States, when I was 12 years old and attended an American school. My parents moved to New Jersey for my dad’s job and I completed 7th and 8th grade there. At the age of 12 it is amazing how quickly and easily you pick up another language. It was an awesome skill to acquire at such a young age and definitely one of the great gifts that my parents gave me to face the future.

Many years later, when I moved to the United Kingdom, back in 2010, I found it difficult to get used to a different accent and so many different words and expressions. All of the sudden, I had trouble understanding people who were using a language that was second nature to me and I felt truly awkward having to ask them to repeat themselves. In a couple of months, I was already used to the different accents and had picked up so many different words. I found myself saying trainers instead of sneakers, cooker instead of stove, petrol instead of gas, Hoover instead of vacuum cleaner, and washer instead of washing machine. (Believe me, there are so many more!)

image005Surprisingly enough, the experience was to be repeated in 2012 when we first arrived in Australia. Some words are similar to the “American English” and therefore were not foreign to me. However, I had just gotten used to say football instead of soccer and crisps instead of chips and now I was back to square one! And then there were all the “Australian” words and expressions which differ from anything I knew. Here flip-flops are thongs (I know!!!!), chickens are chooks, pick-ups are Utes, etc.

Not to mention the Aussie custom of shortening words such as Maccas (McDonald’s), Woolies (Woolworths), barbie (barbecue), brekkie (breakfast), roo (kangaroo), tradie (tradesman/construction worker), etc. They also come up with funny names such as sparky for electrician, chippy for carpenter, and jackeroo for farmer.

Names are also shortened, even when they are quite short to begin with, and you’ll find that Gary will be called Gaz, Barry Baz, etc.

The Aussie slang is also quite funny and I remember reading a phrase book filled with so many funny expressions just before moving here. The one that stuck with me was “Bondi cigar” and I’ll let you Google it as it is too gross to explain here 😉

In a way, I feel very lucky to be able to understand these variations. This is one of the small perks of being able to travel and live in different countries and learn from those experiences. My accent has been affected by all this (plus my Portuguese mother tongue and the 4 years that I lived in The Netherlands) so it is very funny seeing locals trying to guess where I am from. By the way, they never get it right 😉

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