To all English students – who’s ever experienced a situation like this?
Your boss has invited you and your colleagues out to a work retreat at the beach. The situation is idyllic, and you’re enjoying a relaxing day out. Amazed by the natural beauty of the scenery, the glow of the golden sand and the gentle whisper of the waves breaking, you feel the need to tell to your native-speaking friends.
‘Hey guys’, you say, ‘isn’t this beach beautiful?’
The reaction isn’t quite what you were expecting. Some of your friends giggle, some look away awkwardly, and one of your female friends turns bright red. Perplexed by this response, you ask her why people are laughing.
So, it turns out that the /i:/, or ‘ee’ sound, in ‘beach’, is very important. If you pronounce it ‘ɪ’, as in ‘ship’, it becomes a word for a female dog, or, more commonly, a rather rude word for a woman!
So, you’ve just accidentally complimented her, but not in a very respectful way! But, on the plus side, you’ll know better next time!
Anyone who’s lived in a foreign country, and has had to learn the language to get by, will have no end of stories like this! This doesn’t just apply to English – while living in Colombia, your writer learned the hard way that ‘embarazada (pregnant)’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘embarrassed!’. Ironically, this was a very embarrassing mistake!
Here are some tips for living and working in a foreign country, and having to adapt to the language!
Socialise with native speakers!
Every mistake is a chance to improve, and most people will be understanding of your mistakes as a non-native speaker of English (and if they’re not, that’s their fault, not yours). If they are, they’ll probably also be willing to help you out. Why not enlist a little experienced help? Don’t hesitate to ask your native-speaker friends to correct your mistakes – once they’ve finished laughing, of course!
Keep your sense of humour!
Don’t assume that, if someone is laughing at a mistake you’ve made, they’re making fun of or mocking you. Sometimes your mistake is so funny that they can’t just help themselves, and they’re not being mean-spirited! Instead of getting angry, laugh along with them. The ability to laugh at yourself as a learner is paramount – otherwise, you’d better get used to being angry!
Don’t worry (too much) about your accent!
The poet William Cowper said, ‘Variety is the spice of life’. Your accent and manner of speaking is an enormous part of your identity – don’t feel the need to get rid of it to fit in with native speakers. In the vast majority of cases, it will not affect your ability to be understood, and, the occasional pronunciation gaffe aside, it will actually make you more interesting (not to mention attractive!) to native speakers. Be proud of it!
Become fluent in body language!
Experts say that between 70 and 93% of all communication is non-verbal. Even if the words don’t always come to you easily, you’d be surprised how much meaning you can convey without even speaking! Take up a confident posture, smile politely and keep eye contact. With the right simple gestures, you can get your point across highly effectively, even if you don’t (yet) have the vocabulary to express it with words!
Keep a vocabulary notebook
As you make your way through your new environment, you’ll inevitably encounter words you don’t know. Make the effort to learn their meanings, and then jot them down in your notebook! Every unfamiliar situation is a chance to expand your vocabulary.
In fact, why not use the exercise below to learn some new words from this very blog post? Good luck!
Find the underlined words from the blog that mean the same thing as this!
- To make something bigger (verb)
- Without using words (adjective)
- What makes you who you are (noun)
- An embarrassing social mistake (noun)
- To make a note of something (phrasal verb)
- To communicate something (verb)
- A meaningful physical movement (noun and verb)
- Peaceful (adjective)
- Confused (adjective)
- To survive (phrasal verb)
- To laugh (verb)
- To make use of something (verb)
- A way of standing (noun)
- To joke about someone in a cruel way (verb)
- Cruel (adjective)
- Very important (adjective)
- People you work with (noun)
- Very many (adjectival phrase)
- Expand To make something bigger (verb)
- Non-verbal Without using words (adjective)
- Identity What makes you who you are (noun)
- Gaffe An embarrassing social mistake (noun)
- Jot down To make a note of something (phrasal verb)
- To Convey To communicate something (verb)
- Gesture A meaningful physical movement (noun and verb)
- Idyllic Peaceful (adjective)
- Perplexed Confused (adjective)
- To get by To survive (phrasal verb)
- To Giggle To laugh (verb)
- To Enlist To make use of something (verb)
- Posture A way of standing (noun)
- To mock To joke about someone in a cruel way (verb)
- Mean-spirited Cruel (adjective)
- Paramount Very important (adjective)
- Colleagues People you work with (noun)
- No end of Very many (adjectival phrase)