Showing posts with label International English. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International English. Show all posts

Bloopers Can Be Fun ~ International English #4

This is post #4 on the subject, International English.
It can be fun hearing the bloopers made by people learning a new language or using phrases unknown to them. But as writers, if we want to include a snippet of local language in our writing, we need to be sure we get it right.

I read recently on a website of a student in Northern India who was asked, "What do you do?"

"Main chata hoon," he replied carefully in Hindi, meaning to say, "I'm a student." He later discovered he had actually said, "I'm an umbrella." Chatra is a student; chata is an umbrella.

When my daughter was new to Venezuela, she was making her way through a crowd of people. She kept saying what she thought meant, "Excuse me," as she tried to pass people. In South Africa this would mean, "Please make wayI need to get through." She later learned she had been moving through the throng saying, "What's the matter?"

If a South African or British writer sends their heroine for a leisurely stroll along the pavement, this is good for her health. The pavement in South Africa and England is the paved area alongside the road, reserved for pedestrians. However sending her for a stroll along the pavement in America could have dire consequences as that's where the cars drive in the States.

So if we're writing about another culture, we need to make sure we not only have the correct word but that we use it in the right way.

I asked around for some more examples of easy mistakes that can be made when using English. Here are four examples.

Ruth Ann Dell in South Africa said:" When we visited friends in England, they were astonished when we talked about turning right at the robot. They couldn't see any robots on the road. We had a good laugh as we explained that back home in South Africa we called traffic lights robots"

Barbara Strohmenger in Germany shared this: "A funny thing is the wrong use of become by Germans; the German bekommen means to receive, but some think it means to become because it sounds similar; so they say I become a gift instead of I receive a gift.

Karen Shaw Fanner, formally of Zimbabwe and now living in England says: "In Africa just now means in a while, at some point. In the UK just now means immediately, right this minute. How to really annoy people in England is to tell them you'll do it just now and leave it an hour!

And one from myself, an English-speaking South African: "I nursed for many years in a paediatric ward in Krugersdorp, South Africa. Although as a Christian I don't believe in "luck", and I often prayed with parents when their little ones headed for surgery, I nevertheless fell into the practice of saying, Good luck! I'll be praying. If the patients were Afrikaans, I would translate this and say, Geluk! Ek sal bid, which I thought was Good luck! I'll be praying. One day a colleague overheard me, and with a broad grin asked me why I was congratulating the parents. Turns out that although Geluk sounds like Good luck it actually means, Congratulations! So I was sending my small patients off for surgery with the words, Congratulations! I'll be praying."

So, writers, be careful of the words you use, especially if you're trying to use a snippet of foreign language to add flavour to your work. You might just be adding the wrong flavour which could leave your readers with a bad taste. Make use of your Internet friends, and find someone who lives in the country you are writing about, or who fluently speaks the language you wish to quote.

How about you? Do you have an amusing story to share of the wrong word being used as a result of a different language or culture? If so, please comment below. Perhaps I can include them in another post for us all to enjoy.

What in the World Do You Mean? 
The Cultures and Greetings of Christmas Around the World

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 where she encourages writers, or at where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign up to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week.

Christmas Around the World! ~ International English #3

We've been looking at International English.
  • In October, we looked at Making Friends Across the Globe.
  • In November we saw some of the the varieties of English interpretations, especially between British and American English.
  • This month we're going to look at International English at Christmas time.

It's Almost Christmas! 
How will you celebrate? What words will you use?

The word "Christmas" comes from the old English Cristes Maesse, or the mass of Christ. Across the globe, Christmas Day is one of the most festive celebrations. Although greatly commercialized in many countries, it is a Christian holiday held in memory of the birth of Jesus Christ.

No one knows the actual date of Christ's birth but most countries celebrate it on December 25th, although in some countries such as those that follow the Russian Orthodox calender, it is celebrated on January 7th.

Many homes have decorated Christmas trees, real or fake and many families decorate their homes inside and, especially in America, outside their homes as well. In many cultures Christmas is a family affair with family members traveling many miles to celebrate together. Other homes hold bring-and-share meals for many friends. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday and all businesses are closed for the day. Across the world, cities go to great lengths to decorate their streets and main shopping centers.

Most churches have special Christmas Day services with carol singing and often they hold mince-pie celebrations. Within the family, gifts are exchanged and many children believe in Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. In the past, Christmas cards were sent and received but in many lands that custom is rapidly dying out due to the expense of the postal system and of the cards themselves.

Christmas traditions vary from country to country, including such elements as lighting of Christmas trees, hanging of Christmas stockings, Advent wreaths on doors, mistletoe overhead, candy canes, Nativity scenes, carol singing, fasting, midnight mass, burning a Yuletide log, pulling crackers and many others.

"Christmas cake, Boxing Day 2008" by SMC.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution
The countries following British customs often enjoy Christmas Mince Pies (where the mince is made from dried fruit), Christmas Pudding and Iced Christmas Cake—again full of dried fruit mince, yummy! Because of the heat, South Africa is increasingly turning to trifle, ice-cream and fruit salad, and I suspect other hotter countries are doing likewise. (A tragedy to some gastronomical desires including my own!)

Christmas meals also vary wildly. In Nigeria, rice dishes or stews are often served, as is pepper soup with fish, goat or beef. Japanese Christmas cake is a white sponge cake covered with cream and strawberries, and believe it or not, thanks to a successful advertising campaign in the 1970's, eating at KFC around Christmas is regarded as a national custom!

In the USA and many of the British countries, the traditional Christmas dinner features roast turkey and stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham or gammon, and other meats, with a wide variety of cooked vegetables and roast potatoes. In some countries such as the UK and South Africa, the traditional meal is accompanied by the pulling of Christmas crackers which contain jokes, toys and paper hats.

In the Southern Hemisphere any dreams of a White Christmas are exactly that—dreams, as Christmas falls mid-summer. Although South Africans and Australians often follow a similar traditional meal to England and America, it is becoming increasingly common to serve barbecue meals (braai in South Africa) with salads.

No matter where you go in the world it is likely that you will find some form of Christmas celebration, and people will greet you in words only used once a year. In America you are likely to be wished a Merry Christmas! While in the UK, it's more likely to be Happy Christmas!

It's not possible to cover all the greetings in this post, but here are 24 international ways to wish you a Very Happy Christmas;

What in the World Do You Mean?

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, where she encourages writers, or at, where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her onTwitter or FaceBook.

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.

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, where she encourages writers, or at, where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook.

Making Friends Across the Globe ~ International English #1

One day, a lady from the western side of America wrote on a group I belonged to, "I can't get to the shops today because my husband took my car to the shop."

I wondered how her husband could sell her car when she obviously needed it, so I asked, "Are you going to get another one?"

Back came the response, "No. Why would I? There's nothing wrong with this one."

"Then why are you selling it?" I asked, confused.

Time for a lesson in International English. Americans send their cars to the "shop" when they need a service. South Africans send their cars to the shop when they want to sell them.

In South Africa I see many British and American magazines that were unavailable a few years ago. And of course, thanks to the Internet, our words are globally available the instant they appear on the Web. As writers, we are now communicating with people across the world in a way we never could before. This is wonderful--but it's also full of pitfalls for the unwary writer.

So today I thought we'd start a monthly series of articles that will help us improve our global communication, no matter where we live. 

POINT #1: Make friends in other countries.

Join writers' groups on the Internet. The web is an excellent place to interact with writers from other countries. It will not only help improve your writing, it can increase your understanding of different cultures. 
  • Don't be slow to ask questions. "Do you use that expression in your country?" Or, "I don't understand what you mean. We don't use that word." 
  • Look out for those who live in other countries, and learn from them. This will not only help you write for the global market, it will broaden your knowledge and understanding of the world. 
Join a group that follows your hobby or interest.  My first experience of an Internet group was when I joined a Christian Rubber Stamping Group, a large group of mainly ladies, who all loved rubber stamping. We shared ideas, compared notes, and sent cards to one another. In the process, I got to know a number of Americans, a couple of Australians, and one lady in England. Many of these are still my friends today, even though I no longer do stamping.  

When I went to America for a writers' conference, I stayed in four different homes of people with whom I'd become friendly through my stamping group.
  • I learned to eat doughnuts for breakfast.
  • I taught an American friend how tasty toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches were; a common light meal in South Africa.
Participate in Social Media. Read posts and blogs by people from other countries. See how they do things and how they express themselves. Leave comments making sure it's clear you live in another country. I enjoy asking questions on my Facebook Author page to encourage participation. A few weeks ago I asked the question, Do you buy potatoes in small quantities or as a pocket? I was taken aback when the only person who knew what I was talking about was a fellow South African. "What's a pocket of potatoes?" was the theme of the responses.

When I did a search of the Internet to find an image to post, I couldn't find one! I promised to take a photograph and post it. Which is a point . . . 

Facebook, Twitter, or another form of social media are ideal ways to make friends across the globe.
  • We can get to know people in other lands, then go "off site" to discuss an issue that perhaps we need to know about for our writing project. I have made many friends through social media where I can ask their advice and be sure they understand my terminology. 
  • We can build an awareness of other cultures. We may come to see them as people with the same emotions, concerns, and interests as us. It's not that the people are different. It's their cultures, their challenges, and their outlook which are often different. And if we're going to write for them, surely we need to know these things.   
I have developed an on-line relationship with a young woman who is years younger than me, who belongs to a culture so remote from mine that she'd probably be persecuted if our "friendship" was discovered. She simply began to follow my Facebook page, and then wrote to me privately about something she wanted advice on. 

Over the years, I have learned things about her religion and way of life that totally horrify me. Yet she is a young woman in need of love and understanding, and for some reason she has taken a liking to me. I have come to realize some of the deep needs and issues facing some of the young women who live in far-off foreign lands. I can ask her questions if I need to. I can find out how her family would react in various situations. What a wealth of information is available to us, thanks to Social Media.

Today, we've looked at ways of getting to know people across the globe who live in different countries. Next month we'll take a look at some of those countries and how this can and should influence our writing. 

OVER TO YOU: Do you interact with people from other countries? Is there any part of this topic that you would especially like us to look at? Leave a comment below.

FURTHER READING: What in the World Do You Mean? Do you know what a Dolly Varden is? It all depends on the country you live in! It could be anything from a fish to a hat to a cake to a piece of furniture!

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, where she encourages writers, or at, where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook

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