Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lucky lingo

I’m really lucky. I moved to a country where they speak the same language as me (more or less). Seriously, while I can remember words and phrases in languages other than English, I don’t seem suited to actually taking on another language.

I studied German in high school, but neither that nor occasional brushing-up in the years since, nor a trip to Germany, could bring me anywhere near the fluency of a child. I can imagine how much harder it would’ve been for me had I moved to a country where I spoke none of the language at all.

Which is not to say that it’s been all plain sailing, linguistically speaking. When I first arrived in New Zealand in 1995, I had trouble understanding some people when they spoke, and that was just the accent. Add slang to the mix and I found myself confused a lot of the time.

It was no easier for people I encountered. After all, I was the one with the accent, not them, and my slang was different from theirs. From their perspective, I was the one who was difficult to understand.

In those early days, there was a Molenberg bread ad on television that featured soldiers out for a run and doing one of those military-style sing-song chant things they do (in movies and TV, anyway). I had absolutely NO idea what they were saying. To me, it sounded like gibberish.

I realised that my linguistic conversion, if you will, had been largely completed when some years later the TV commercial was aired again and I understood every word.

However, even now there’s still the odd slang word I hear that I don’t know, but these days I’m just as likely to be using the words and phrases that once confused me. Partly because of that, and because my accent has shifted, people seem to have far less trouble understanding me now than back nearly eleven years ago.

All of which has been on my mind with the imminent arrival of my American friend Jason. What will he make of New Zealand English? Will I end up having to repeat myself at all?

He begins his long journey in about four hours, arriving here about 27 hours later—a little more than thirty-one hours from now. I’m sure my questions will start being answered fairly soon after his arrival.

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