Language Barrier

Expat Experience – The Unexpected Challenge

The Move to America

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!

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Fancy a Double Double or a Medium Regular? Tim Hortons has a language all of it’s own

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.



7 thoughts on “Language Barrier

  1. Molly @ The Move to America

    I get what you are writing about – I always have to ask Hubby what something means, and there have been times when we have watched something and I have missed the point to it. I will be doing a vlog (if Hubby is game) about differences in pronounciation and phrases/slang. It is odd not having a language barrier – but having one – gets me confused too!

    Thanks for joining in the linky!

  2. Jade

    Love this post. When I moved to London in 2007 I felt like they were speaking a completely different type of “English”. Now of course, I can slang it up with the best of them and my parents had a good laugh at my expense over the past two weeks when I visited home because “I sounded so British”!

  3. Irene @ Away from Tenerife

    That must be a really weird experience, to feel lost in your own mother tongue.

    I learnt English as a foreign language as school and I’ve learnt A LOT reading british magazines and books. Recently I bought via Amazon an Amrican cookbook and it was a real challenge to go through the recipes as some of the ingredients were unknown to me and many have slightly different names (for example, I had never heard of bell peppers before). Also, my boyfriend was in the US recently and brought a copy of the American edition InStyle and it is sometimes hard to read as they use words I’m totally not used to – like cheapie instead of bargain. I guess it takes time to get used to it.

    Great advice, asking questions is indeed important 🙂

  4. Mama Syder

    I felt like an outsider because of my Essex accent (Our Romford accent is particularly strong compared with other parts of Essex isnt it) simply moving to another part of the UK. I really missed hearing the cockney accent, and even living here I love going into Romford shopping beause I notice how ‘normal’ I sound there…everyone there speaks exactly like me and I love it xxx

  5. Mum

    Made me think Lou, I guess Canadians have ‘regional’ accents do they? so does someone from say Vancouver sounds different to someone from Toronto? There are different words for the same thing all over UK, so somewhere the size of Canada,….it could get a lot worse for you and there’s the French influence…!

  6. Holly Nelson

    So many stories Lou! I might have to write about this too…but yeah, the other day I said ‘MasterCard’ in two different shops as Iw net to pay and in both shops they thought I was asking for a cigar!!

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