Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What's in a word?

Language learning is an interesting experience.  Having the language ability of a three-year-old is very humbling!  You have to be at ease with laughing at yourself, asking the teacher crazy questions (multiple times) and accepting the fact that you’ll make mistakes.  You just hope that they’re going to be amusing ones and that you don’t unintentionally offend someone.

I’ve made many language faux-pas in the four months I’ve been here in France.  Generally they tend to be that I’ve chosen the wrong ending to a verb, got the word order in a sentence wrong, or thought that a masculine word was feminine or vice-versa (why do certain languages need their nouns to be masculine or feminine?!  It just adds another layer of complexity to learning them!).

So far, to my knowledge, I’ve not made any major gaffs when speaking French.  I’ve made a couple of bloopers though:

When at a patisserie, I wanted to order a pain aux raisins.  We’d recently been practising our phonetics in class, and how you have to link some words into others if one ends with a consonant and the next starts with a vowel.  So I did my best linking between the words ‘pain’ and ‘aux’.  ‘Panna cota?’ the lady behind the counter said.  I was very confused, so was she.  After a bit of pointing and me re-saying ‘pain aux raisins’ a few more times in slightly different ways, she eventually understood me and I bought the delicious treat! 

Another time I mixed up two French verbs which are fairly similar in their spelling, but have different meanings.  I was ordering a takeaway coffee in Paris and the conversation went as follows:

Me: 'Un café au lait, s’il vous plaît'
Man behind the counter: ‘sur place?’ (to drink in?)
Me: ‘Non merci, pour emprunter’

I’d said ‘no thank you, to borrow’, instead of ‘non merci, à emporter’ which is ‘no thank you, to take away’.  He didn’t even flinch bless him!  I only realised my mistake about ten minutes later as I was sipping the aforementioned coffee!

No explanation of this photo needed!

La Seine in Autumn

It’s not only with French where word-confusion reigns.  I didn’t think that I would also sometimes have trouble understanding my mother-tongue here!  There are a few fellow-Brits here at the school but we are far outnumbered by the combined force of the Australians and Americans!  This has made for some interesting exchanges (on the rare occasions that we speak English of course…..ahem…..)

A conversation in August:

Australian friend: ‘Please can you see if there’s any pumpkin at the market when you go?’
Me (thinking ‘this girl is nuts, we’ll never get pumpkin in August’): ‘Ok, sure’
Me (after returning from market): ‘Nope, no pumpkin I’m afraid’
Australian friend (a week later, having visited the market): ‘there was pumpkin there today, look!’

……Turns out that Aussie’s use the word pumpkin for what we Brits call butternut squash and it was at the market all along!

There are many words in English that have completely different meanings in Australia and/or America than in the UK.  They cause a fair bit of hilarity, even when one party knows that there’s a different meaning.  Here are some we’ve come across so far.  Some are new to me, as in the example above, others not so new, but are included for a fuller round-up!

Australian and/or American word
British equivalent word
Fanny pack
Bum bag

There are more, but they’re not all springing to mind at the moment!

There are of course words that we Brits use that are as equally bizarre to Americans and/or Aussies.

At school I have to remember, in the company of Americans, to make sure I say ‘please can I borrow your eraser’.......

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