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What Have I Learned? Part 1: Language

What Have I Learned? Part 1: Language

Anyone who studies abroad in a country where they are not fluent in the language will mention struggles with a language barrier, and that’s totally normal. But guess what? British English is SO different from American English! A lot of it boils down to accent and inflection. Basically every time I’ve ordered in a restaurant or bar since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten flustered from not understanding something the server said. And it’s important to remember that even though you’re in an English-speaking country, that doesn’t mean you’ll only encounter English!

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At a Lebanese café near Buckingham Palace, it took 10 minutes for us to order coffee and scones from a waitress who only spoke a few words of English. At an Italian restaurant in Soho, our waiter spoke with such a thick Italian accent that he was almost impossible to understand. When you’re traveling, you always have to keep an open mind and be patient with everyone you meet.


But lets not forget about the Brits! I’ve been speaking English for 20 years now, and up until this month I really thought I’d mastered it. But London may as well be a whole different world.


“Ello, gov’nah!”

“Pip, pip, cheerio!”

“Where’s the loo?”


Sound familiar? These are all examples of overstereotyped British phrases that most Americans are used to throwing out in humor whenever the UK is even mentioned. But I’m 3 weeks into my 5 month-long London adventure, and I can assure you that we’ve all been wrong this entire time. Yes, really.

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The first few might not come as a surprise. I mean, gov’nah? Come on. But I really was shocked about this last one. I’ve now been in London for 20 days and met countless England natives in my dorms, classes, and out on the street. But I have not once heard anyone refer to the bathroom as “the loo.” It’s just not a thing here. I know what you’re thinking, WHAAAAT??!


Most commonly, the Brits just say toilet. “Toilets” signs adorn every public restroom, with the occasional “WC” (water closet) thrown in. I’m not sure why this disappointed me so much, but the loo is no more. All those movies and TV shows lied to us. Let it go, Americans!    :’(


Some phrases I didn’t expect to be different, and those have led to some adjusting. For instance, “cheerio!” might sound a little silly, but Brits are huge fans of one simple derived form of the word. In my extensive scientific studies (ie., 3 weeks of being an obnoxious tourist) I’ve come to the conclusion that “cheers” is the most commonly used word in the British English language.


Open a door for someone? “Cheers!”

Lend them a pencil? “Cheers!”

Hand them correct change? “Cheers!”


Sometimes you’ll get lucky and even get a “cheers, mate” tacked on at the end there. It’s basically interchangeable with “thanks” and even “goodbye” but who knew???

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Two of my flatmates. Erica, left (American) and Marina, right (British)

I could go on for ages, but there is one last one that threw me. I’ve gotten to know my flatmates pretty well so far, and they are all wonderful, hilarious people. But I don’t always understand what on earth they’re talking about. For instance:


“Oh, last night everyone was taking the piss out of me.”


This is a completely normal sentence in London. Apparently, it’s another way to say “everyone was making fun of me last night.” The first time I heard this one I nearly choked on my dinner but now it’s become so common that I’ll probably have to watch myself from saying it when I come back to the states. So weird. Why, England??

I know I have it much easier than some of my other fellow study abroad-ers in terms of language, but adjustment is hard no matter where you go. I can already hear myself changing slightly when I talk to my local friends, like using “quite” instead of “really” and “a bit” instead of “some”….But I still don’t think my midwestern accent will be budging any time soon!

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