Expat Experience – The Unexpected Challenge
When moving from the UK to Canada the one thing I never expected was a language barrier English is the first language here after all but it’s there and is evident on a daily basis.
We all grew up watching American TV shows and you soon pick up on the odd words that are different rubbish/garbage lift/elevator pavement/sidewalk but I have discovered the language barrier is subtler than that, many words that you would use every day in the UK aren’t used at all. My husband uses ‘reckon’ frequently and this is one of those words that is never used here, in fact as we are from East London/Essex and occasionally use slang words several people thought it not a real word at all.
Simple every day interactions, such as discussing the time, highlight differences in language, Canadians will use ‘after’ instead of ‘past’ (eg. it’s 10 after 6) and although if you said it was 10 past 6 they would know what you meant it just sounds odd.
My accent, even though I have been told is not particularly strong, is regularly a source of frustration when people don’t understand what I’m saying and I find myself dreading having to make phone calls as I know it will be painfully difficult to make myself understood. I have totally given up using the drive thru option if I want to grab a coffee at my local Tims because yelling my order fifteen times at the top of my lungs emphasizing a different part of the word each time is extremely irritating!
Being the ‘woman with the British accent’ singles me out from others, it makes me feel different and draws unwanted attention to myself which I don’t like but and it’s a big but I don’t want to change who I am or lose my identity which can come as a result of moving to a different culture.
3 Tips to help you cope with an unexpected language barrier
Learn the lingo – if the locals call it a cell phone then you call it a cell phone, saying mobile phone may make you feel frightfully British but it will always make you seem like an outsider. Listen to the words the locals use and use them but don’t try to say them like they do as that comes across as sounding fake.
Enunciate – we all have a tendency to mumble at times, especially when we get comfortable in our surroundings, we use colloquialisms and speak too fast. Try no to do that, slow down and speak clearly.
Ask questions – if someone says something you don’t understand or uses a phrase you’ve never heard just ask them to clarify it. Don’t try to pretend you understand if you don’t to try to save face, it could lead you into all sorts of trouble if you have misunderstood.