When our kids are little, we often record the cute little things they say complete with mispronunciations. Little did I realize that we’d wind up doing the same thing simply by living abroad – and it’s not the children who are saying these amusing phrases.
A Chinese colleague of my husband’s, pretty fluent in English, says “understoodable” instead of “understood,” meaning the same just in a really endearing way. Another associate refers to the Crowne Plaza as the “Crown-y” simply because English uses that confusing silent “e” so often. When living in Germany, my Dad had a housekeeper who used to say “Let see me now” instead of “Let me see now.” Our family uses these phrases regularly because we find them to be charming and they remind us of all the innocent language differences.
I quickly realized when moving here that common expressions in my homeland don’t translate well here at all, so I’ve had to make a conscious effort to stop using them. Colloquial sayings like “lost track of time,” or “food for thought,” or even “keep in touch” just don’t make any sense if you translate just the words.
Living amongst people from all areas of the world, we pick up – and take home — cultural phrases, too. My girls say “straight away,” a very common Australian or New Zealand phrase, and my American family looks at me quizzically for an explanation. Or, taking on a cultural nuance from China, we now use that wordless murmur used in conversation here as an acknowledgment of what is being said. It sort of serves as my familiar “uh huh” response, but using these murmurs back home sound so unnatural in normal conversations that they are almost interruptions to the flow. I guess it works here because it’s normal here.
I’ve had to slow my speech down considerably, too, especially with a Chinese person who is not fluent in English. I’ve found that over-enunciating and slowing things down to a snail’s pace (another phrase?) is something I must do to communicate. I know I normally speak very quickly, and that cannot help someone who doesn’t understand English to understand me. On the flip side, when I go home, I almost sound unintelligent the way my slow phrasing and simple words come out.
Of course, gesturing – which these days might make me a charades champion – has helped me communicate here more than anything else. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you work with what you’ve got. In China, the combos of our communication styles see us through.