Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Even when we speak the same...

Some of you might know my first language is Afrikaans.  But I am also fluent in English.  That would be because from day 1 at school in South Africa we had to have both Afrikaans and English right until the last day of school.  I don't know if it is still like that, but it was like that when I was at school. I was fortunate that my one high school was really good.  They put a lot of emphasis on grammar and spelling and things like that.  Now I am by no means perfect.  I make lots of mistakes.  And I will never forget when I was in Year 6 at school and I had to make a sentence with the word stirrup and very nearly wrote "I like stirrup on my bread" and thankfully I remembered syrup wasn't written like that and I didn't write this on my test (can you imagine if I did?  The teacher would have probably fallen off his chair laughing so much).    But then I see people here who are not all that familiar with the apostrophe-s rule (I wrote about it here) and then I don't feel all that bad.  At least I have the excuse that this is my second language :-).

Whenever we catch up with people here who are from other countries, at times we will discuss how people from different countries speak quite differently.  When I started with a Bachelor of Business degree (which I never finished because of Bianca's leukemia) one of my papers was Business Communication and we had to discuss communication problems at the work place.  I used these examples to show how somebody might say something but actually mean something very different:

My mum had a colleague many many years ago who couldn't really speak English.  She could speak Afrikaans and very limited English.  One day she wanted to buy a vacuum cleaner and she phoned the one store and the discussion went a little bit like this:

"Hello, I'm looking for an electric broom"
Silence... then "Sorry a what?"
"Yes, you know, that thing you swipes the mats with"

My second example was about a gentleman I worked with who was from the Ukraine.  He was pretty good with his English and he was one of the team leaders.  In one of his team meetings he turned to his one staff member and said to her "you need to grow up".  She was so upset and felt completely humiliated to be told to grow up in front of her team members. Straight after the meeting she lodged a complaint with the departmental manager.  Turned out that this team leader simply meant "I would like to offer you the opportunity to develop yourself and take on more responsibility because I think you are capable".  She didn't think to ask what he meant and he didn't think to explain further what he meant.

The third example I based on my experience moving to New Zealand.  At one of the temporary jobs I held, somebody asked me about living in South Africa and one of the things I told her was that there were quite a few people out on the streets begging for money at the robots.  And so about a week after I told this story, she came to my desk and asked "why do you have robots in your streets?"  It never occurred to me to say traffic lights instead... 

"Just now" is another one I often say which basically means "shortly, when I get a chance, in the near future".  It doesn't actually mean right this very second. 

And there was once something that I said that turned out to sound rather rude and made the person I said it to nearly collapse on the floor laughing!

And I found some phrases here that I wasn't familiar with before I came:

"I feel crook" - when I first heard this I didn't associate it with "feeling unwell" A crook as far as I was concerned meant "somebody who committed a crime".

"I have to go home and cook my tea".  Why would you cook your tea?  Don't you simply put the tea bag in the cup and pour boiling water into the cup?  Here it means to cook your dinner.

Morning tea, afternoon tea, bring a plate and it's my shout are all phrases that I've never heard of until I came here. 

And other differences between South Africa and New Zealand:

In South Africa we would say bakkie and here they say ute or they say takkies / tekkies in South Africa for a sports shoe.  And braai instead of BBQ.

So even though both countries have English as a language, different words might mean different things and that can cause some confusion.


Sue, Joe and Michael Webber said...

Had a good chortle at this :D I'm English and speak English, but I tell ya it ain't the same as they speak here! lol So you're not the only one as all those phrases have caught me out too! :D

Fi said...

I have an English husband and after 16 years of being together we still tease each other about our funny expressions and accents :)

Jess said...

haha this was funny. I live with a pom and every day we pick up on strange (to us) things she says. Spanish is my second language and the other day I tried to sing a nusery rhyme to a spanish friend but I accidently was singing about a lettuce instead of an owl. He nearly fell over laughing.

Paul said...

A great blog, Lea. You have put a lot of thought into it. Language and sayings can be extremely confusing and embarrassing sometimes.

blackhuff said...

I love this blog post of yours. I love how you use our language, Afrikaans, as an example. So true and my mom is like that lady who tried to order a vacuum cleaner. Raw Afrikaans, limited English :)

Buttons said...

Oh I like this post it is so funny the different ways people coin a phrase. Great post. B

Maa said...

I come from Holland and my mother couldn't pronounce 'th' so always called thongs...tongs. Dometime she would use 'd' instead of 'th' too. It got very confusing.
A lady I know who was
english, used to ask the butcher for 'chook steak' and he kept telling her that you couldn't get steak from chickens. It took a while befor he realised she meant 'chuck steak'.Haha! Good post Lea!

Marcia (123 blog) said...

LOL too funny! I love this post :)

I LOVE how people speak differently - it's one of my favourite things about people :)

I must tell you when we went to Ireland, we learned quite a few things - I'm "gasping" for a cup of tea (dying for a cup) and something weird like "I'm after my bag" means "I'm looking for my bag (I could have this wrong though because I still don't get it)