Speaking English vs. Speaking American

Think you have a solid grasp on the English language?  Sure, you passed the TOEFL with flying colors, but how often have you had a casual conversation with an American?  Alas, you may discover that what you know may not be what you really need to know.  Which begs the following question: do you know what you don’t know?

Wait, what?

Just like every other language, English in America has incredible intricacies based on location.  Among different accents, there’s different slang and expressions based on your area.  So what’s the solution?  Immersion and repetition!  

First off, a disclaimer is needed.  Most Americans can struggle with the variations of English spoken in different parts of the US.  An American who has spent their entire life in the Northeast may need some time to understand all the words and accents in the Midwest or Southern parts of the country.  Don’t worry about mastery when you get off the plane, but just know that it will take some time to learn as much as you may need.

With slang,  the only cure may be to talk with your new friends and try to pick up as many words as possible.  The internet works as well, but hearing certain words in their actual context may help a bit more.

Now for a test: can you decipher this short conversation that one of our employees heard on the way to work this morning?  If so, you are well on your way to being immersed in speaking “American.”

  • Student 1: “How psyched are you for 4th?”
  • Student 2: “Totally. How many franks you think we’ll need to pick up?”
  • Student 1: “I’d say 100 is a nice ballpark for starters.”
  • Student 2: “Easy there, Kobayashi. Let’s start with 20.”

If you guessed that these students were talking about how many hot dogs to pick up for the 4th of July, a holiday in the US also known as Independence Day, you’re on the right track.  Student 1 then goes on to say that 100 hot dogs would be a good estimate, only to be called the name of a former competitive eating champion by Student 2.

If you had no idea what these students were talking about, it’s not time to press the panic button, cancel those plane tickets, and ask for your deposit back.  Rather, realize that it’ll take a bit of time to adjust, and you’ll vastly improve your language skills in a matter of weeks.

For those looking to hide their accents a bit more, there are subtle pronunciations that can help ease your transition.  While there are far too many to cover in a blog post, here’s a helpful video that gives some useful insight:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdOgNXwCUYE

English is widely accepted as one of the toughest languages to learn, and the fact that you’ve made it this far is something to be admired.  Just with other aspects of life, language is something you can never stop learning and improving.

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