Learning English

You may think you know English. In fact, you may be reading this right now, and you may think to yourself, “Golly gee, I can understand everything Kaley is saying in the very complicated language known as English.” You are wrong. You speak what I will refer from now on as ‘merican. (Pronounced = “mer-kun”.)

My students, although they speak very little English, speak even less ‘merican. So I too have had to learn a bit of English.

When I was younger, I remember learning that, in England, they also spoke English, but it was different. Taking this to mean quite different, I told my friends that in England they spoke another language also called English. “For instance,” I would say, “to say goodbye, you say ‘cheerio.'” Satisfied at my obvious linguistic expertise, I would nod smugly, hoping to see a hint of wonderment creep onto my friends’ faces.

Sadly, I learned that I was mistaken and that, although they might seem rather different, ‘merican and English are really quite similar, with differing expressions, grammatical changes, spelling, and pronunciation. All in all, we can and do understand each other, even if American cable channels try to dumb us down by subtitling English from the U.K., as though we are too thick (great expression, you Brits!) to get it.

In Spain, in general, the children learn British English. Thus, I will often be doing an exercise with them and come across a word that startles me in that I’ve no idea to what it refers. For example, upon seeing a picture of a flashlight, I searched for flashlight in the vocabulary list only to find it missing. Instead, by process of elimination, I figured that it could only be torch. Now, when you say torch, I think:

That is a torch. There is fire. A torch is not a flashlight because, when you light a flashlight, fire is (sadly) not involved. However, in England, they have mad the regrettable decision to call it as such. Sigh. To each their own, I suppose.

By far the funniest such mess up has been with a common classroom object—the eraser. Erasers are ubiquitous here because every child must, by Spanish law, carry a pencil case. Now, it’s up to you what the pencil case has on it, whether you decorate it when your name, and what size it is. The thing you are required by law to do is buy it and take it to school. But I digress. Because of these handy-dandy pencil cases, every child has several pens, pencils, erasers, and his or her own personal white out. I never came to class that prepared; in fact, there were often days I forgot to bring a writing utensil at all. If only my government had required me to carry a pencil case, none of that would have ever happened. The Spanish government are some smart cookies.

An eraser in ‘merican is eraser. There. Easy. In English, it is—get this—rubber. Now, rubber is a nice product with many uses. If I were to say, “It’s rubber,” you’d think, “That object is made of rubber.” However, and this is where it gets a bit tricky, if I add the article “a” before the word, the whoooooole meaning changes. “It’s a rubber,” I say, and you laugh, expecting me to be holding something quite different. (Ahem—a condom.) This is exactly what happened with poor little Raúl. I was going from desk to desk, picking up various objects, asking, “What is this?” and the children were responding, “It’s a pencil” / “It’s a notebook.” So, silly me, when I picked up the eraser, I kind of wasn’t expecting the response to be, “It’s a rubber.” No, children, it is not. It is an eraser. Don’t bring rubbers to school unless you plan on hooking up in the bathroom. And if you do, don’t.

Now really, I don’t think ‘merican is intrinsically better than English. Instead, I favor it because it’s just plain easier … for me. And thus, by my impeccable logic, it is easier for you, and you, and you. Mario has already experienced this and has learned to not add that extra u in favorite, lest he experience the wrath of his better half. But still, it does lead to some funny moments, like when he asked me if I wore dungarees as a child, and I immediately thought of a type of jeans. (He meant overalls.) Dungarees, to me, sound like something your typical Australian would wear in the Outback, but that’s just me, I suppose.

So, all this to say that I too am learning English, and it’s been an interesting ride. Your homework this week is to learn the alternate meanings of the following words:

  • trainers
  • jumper
  • biscuit
  • boot
  • lift
  • football
  • bum bag
  • public school

Your homework is due in one week—that is, November 14, at precisely 4 PM. I am a tough grader. You were warned.

6 thoughts on “Learning English

  1. Great article! While I was reading it, I was wearing my favourite jumper (i.e., the one you gave me for my birthday) and, after that, I was lucky enough to find my rucksack full of buiscuits. :)

  2. Good thing I wore my trainers today…I had to sprint to the lift before the doors closed! If my car hadn’t taken so long to park in the garage (pronounced “garege”), then I would have been on time. Sheesh!

    Great blog…very entertaining!

  3. I find that a lot of my students and colleagues have been taught British English, as well! Here in northern France, they’re known for having the best fries. I continually get caught up with I hear them called “chips”. In my opinion, “chips” are the potato and tortilla chips it’s impossible to eat just one of. But no, those are apparently “crisps”… Also instead of marking an “x” or a check next to something on paper, they put a “cross” or a “tick”.

  4. hahah i know exactly what you mean when you write about british english—most of my international friends have learned ‘proper’ english, UK style..sometimes its a bit hard to understand them, but always amusing! loving your blog and your sense of adventure! clearly, im partial to travelers…

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