Thursday, November 20, 2014

Understand Your International Friends ~ International English #2


Last month we looked at Making Friends Across the Globe as the first article in a series on International English. Today we're going to look at some different countries and a few of the varieties of English interpretations there are.

POINT #2: Understand Your International Friends

When in doubtfind out! Perhaps you read the sentence, "She placed her hand-held mirror carefully down on her Dolly Varden." You screw up your face and re-read the sentence. If you live in North America you wonder why on earth she would place a mirror on top of a piece of trout. Or if you're in England, you are baffled why she wants to wear a mirror on top of her fancy, flower-decked hat. As an Australian you will find it strange that she places a mirror on a doll-shaped cake! But of course if you're a South African it makes sense. Where else would she place her hand-held mirror but on her dressing-table?
  • If you know the author, write and ask him or her. "I'm puzzled where she placed her mirror. I suspect your use of Dolly Varden is different to mine." That way you both learn.
  • Ask an international group. It doesn't need to be a writing group either. As long as the members speak English, quote the sentence and ask, "Can anyone throw a light on the meaning of this?" It will stimulate some interesting conversation between members; a group-leader's delight!
  • Look it up! I have had the free version of WordWeb installed on my computer for many years. If I come across a word I don't understand I simply hit Alt, Ctrl and W - and it gives me the meaning. On Kindle, I hover the cursor before the word and it gives me a definition. If all else fails you can always Google it, or (gasp!) turn to a traditional dictionary.   
Before submitting an article, check international scenes with someone from that country. In South Africa or England it is customary for people to go for a brisk walk along the pavement. In America I have learned that can prove fatal as that is the paved area where the cars drive!

I once was enjoying a book by a popular author who shall remain nameless, set in Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). Suddenly the hero and his group made their way to an area that was an extinct volcano. Hello? I spent most of my childhood in that country. There is no volcano in the land, extinct or otherwise. That ruined the story for me. I felt I couldn't trust the author any more. He clearly had not done his researchor checked his facts with someone "on the ground".

One final example: Here in South Africa many of the rural population live in rondawels, thatched round huts buildings built of mud and wattle. The Australian nation floral emblem is the Golden Wattle which makes a beautiful display when grown closely together. And in Britain a common site is a fence made of upright stakes around which green branches of wattle are woven.

Allow for different words. Because the other country uses a different word, it doesn't meant it's wrong!  When I started my first Website I naively asked the question, "What English should I use?" The majority told me to use American English. Some told me to use British English (as I was born in Britain), and others told me to use my own South African variant of British English but to put a disclaimer on every page! Why would I do that? I may have a different accent to most of my readers, and I may use different words for some things, but my language is not wrong! Nor is yours. (Unless of course you speak or write badly!)

Obviously, if I am writing for an American market, I must write in American English. But on my own website? (Although I have to confess I tend to slip between the one and the other as I'm so used to using American English!) The important thing about a personal website (or my author page on Facebook) is, do you understand me? (And if you don't? Please ask!) 

In closing here are a few common differences you will find when reading American English (AE) or British English (BE):

BE: Babies wear nappies; AE: Babies wear diapers.

BE: The bathroom contains a bath, not necessarily a toilet; AE: The bathroom always contains a toilet, not necessarily a bathtub.

BE: You walk on the pavement and drive in the road; AE: You drive on the pavement and walk on the sidewalk.

BE: Biscuits are crisp snacks, similar to the AE cookies.

AE: Biscuits are a type of bread served with savoury foods, rather like the BE scones.

BE: A trunk is a large metal box, which you might put into the boot (storage section) of your car;

AE: The trunk is the storage section of your car.

BE: The engine is under the bonnet; AE: It’s under the hood.

BE: You go to hospital for an operation in theatre; AE: You go to the hospital for surgery in the operating room. (Oh and in BE you go to hospital. In AE you go to the hospital!)

BE: The kids may play in the garden, avoiding the flower beds of course; AE: They play in the yard.

BE: We may go on holiday in our caravan; AE: You go on vacation in your travel trailer.

And finally, one that I keep forgetting much to the frustration of my American critique group:

BE: Ladies fall pregnant AE: They get pregnant!

So next time you come across a word you don't understand in a book or on a blog, don't automatically condemn the author. Rather attempt to understand your international friends!

NEXT MONTH: We will look at International English at Christmas.

OVER TO YOU: Do you have other terms you can add to the above? Especially if you are from a different country to America or Britain. Leave a comment below.

FURTHER READING:  
What in the World Do You Mean? 
Making Friends Across the Globe.



SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer has created a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

Please visit Shirley through ShirleyCorder.com, where she encourages writers, or at  RiseAndSoar.com, where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook.

23 comments:

  1. Shirley, this was such an interesting read! I can see it's important for writers to do their research. I don't have anything to add to your international list, but there are variations of words in the U.S. depending on where you live; e.g. soft drink/soda/pop. So an author would want to research to get everyday items accurately written, giving their story more authenticity.

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    1. Thanks for this, Kathleen. Yes, I remember causing confusion when I attended my first Writers Conference in the US. My host offered me a "soda" and I said, "It's not necessary. Anything cold would be good." Because for us a soda is a fizzy drink!

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  3. Just had to chuckle - BE you say "different to" -- AE the correct form is "different from", Of course, we have people who don't know the difference or haven't been taught proper grammar.

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    1. So true, Judith. Because I write for both markets, I often find myself confused as to what I should be saying, even using my OWN grammar!

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  4. Thanks for an interesting read and reminder Shirl. Yep, when I write I always don my AE hat, but very often BE creeps in.

    Then of course there aren't only word differences, but spelling differences. One I tend to come across often is AE = toward. BE = towards. And the S vs Z and O vs OU variants to contend with :)

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    1. Oh yes, spelling is another nightmare. And you're right the toward/towards, backward/backwards is a problem I keep slipping up on. Thanks Marion.

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  5. Shirley, great post. You definitely show the importance of knowing the locale you want to write for. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Karen. It's fun, but also frustrating, to write for another 'culture' to your own. I can't stress enough the importance of having at least one switched-on reader or critique partner who will correct you. Even after 14 years of writing for the American market I still get pulled up at some point in almost every article I write!

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  6. Shirley, in my part of America we go on vacation in an RV or camper, not a travel trailer. In American English a caravan is a train of cars (or camels) traveling together like a convoy. When my American daughter was learning to read in Mozambique, the school was British. She was frustrated by an exercise where she was supposed to circle the first letter of the thing pictured and couldn't find the T for truck (BE lorry) or the S for sweater (BE jumper). For us a jumper is a sort of pinafore dress.

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    1. Yes, you're right LeAnne. I found it SO frustrating trying to describe my caravan being towed by our car. we also have RVs and campers - but they're not the same as a caravan. And we definitely don't take camels with us on holiday (vacation). Thanks for adding another two words to my arsenal (truck and sweater). We have both of these of course but they mean different things.

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  7. Since moving to Africa ten plus years ago, I've found the differences between what we say as English speakers in different countries so fascinating. Thanks for the interesting look into some of those differences!

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    1. Thanks for your comment Lisa. Yes the differences are so many and often subtle, so easy traps for the international writer!

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  8. Some funny differences. Thanks Shirley.

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    1. Yes Dale, some of them are really funny. The importance is recognising (recognizing) that they are all correct in their specific countries. (Unless of course they're wrongly spelled or used of course. LOL!)

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  9. The more I work with international circles the more I realize I need to keep open to learn from the cultures who share common English roots, even if our work usage varies.

    - From Debbie Johnston who was unable to post in her own name.

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    1. Yes Debbie, I agree. The key is to be open to learn from folk with whom we share a common language but a different culture. Thanks for your visit.

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  10. 2nd try here. I wanted to recommend a book that fits with this topic--maybe for Christmas giving to the international student on your list who needs a little extra help with accent reduction or understanding our crazy English grammar and idioms. It is What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z http://AmericaAtoZ.com and was ensorsed by two ambassadors, both to and from the US and selected by a US university for Fulbright scholars to read.

    Sorry about the delay, Shirl. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Carolyn. I'm sure that would be very useful for American immigrants or even visitors.

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  11. BE: I have just seen John in the hallway.
    AE: I just saw John in the hallway.

    BE: Holiday is time off work or a fun bit of traveling.
    AE: Vacation is time off work or a fun bit of traveling. Holiday is Christmas Day, Valentines, Easter.

    BE: Courgettes, spring onions, aubergine
    AE: Zucchini, green onions, eggplant

    Chips (BE) are French fries (AE) and crisps (BE) are chips (AE)
    Pudding (BE) is any dessert (AE)

    And everything can be "brilliant" in BE (brilliant book, yes, but also brilliant mashed potatoes, brilliant jeans, etc.)

    The list goes on and on and on. It's fascinating.

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  12. Thanks for some more words Melinda. Yes, you're right. The list goes on and on -- and it can be a real minefield for the naïve international writer!

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  13. This is great information. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank for visiting Linda. I hope you find this helpful in your writing. We live in a global village today and our writing is available to the entire village!


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