Tomato or tomato

Learning a new language isn’t all that difficult. Anybody can study a dictionary and learn a bit of grammar. It is what that lies behind the words that I find difficult. How to use the words in different settings, and how they might be interpreted depending on the context,and depending on who (or is it whom?) you are talking to.

I always thought I could speak English quite well.  I started learning English in school from the age of 9, as did every Norwegian back then. They now start when they are 7 years old. In addition to learning it in school, most TV programmes and films(movies) (apart from some animated children’s programmes) are not dubbed, but subtitled in Norwegian, which means that we get exposed to English (and American) all the time.

My favorite programmes used to be Eastenders and Dynasty, and Mash and Cheers and the Cosby Show… The list goes on. And it was mostly American programmes, not English. So I learned to say elevator (instead of lift), sidewalk (instead of pavement) and tomato (instead of tomato – you know what I mean). And I never thought much of it as surely everybody would understand what I was saying. But living in England you are soon corrected if you use American words.

The next challenge was then to use the right terms and expressions. Your language really defines you as a person, and it is your second impression (after your looks) – so using terms that I had learnt from watching Eastenders what not necessarily the right thing to do.Listening to the Queen speak didn’t help either, neither did reading Jane Austen… So how do you “find yourself” and define yourself in a new language. It took me many years, and I am still working on, which terms and expression do I like, and know how to pronounce, and which ones “suit” me?

And then, when you have sorted out all of the above all you have to do is start to talk! You have to stop thinking in your own language, as translating sentences in your head before you talk, means that the conversation has moved on and you stand there like a bit of an idiot (Trust me, I speak from experience. I found it especially difficult after a couple of pints of beer…). You have to trust yourself and not care if you think you sound stupid (again, I speak from experience), and you have to enjoy it. Get over the fact that you have to tell everybody you ever meet where you are from and how you ended where you currently are (My husband is English, we met in Norway and I have been here for x number of years, and yes, I really do enjoy it, and yes, Norway can be very cold, but no, we do not have polar bears roaming our streets….hmm… sorry… I had to get that off my chest!)

So when all that is sorted you would think all my troubles were over. Well far from it. Now people would think I was Irish! Here I thought I had perfected the English language and that I spoke with the perfect accent, and then people would think I was Irish! I didn’t even understand Irish (or Scottish or Welsh for that matter)!  But I got over it, I learned to like Guinness, so then that problem was also solved.

– Photo credit to Astrid Warren –

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11 Comments to “Tomato or tomato”

  1. Oh Asta, it’s so very true, isn’t it? There’s just so very much to learn and muddle through. Especially after a pint (or two!)!

    • And after living in England for 8 years my Norwegian was starting to suffer – and now we have been in Norway a couple of years and my English is now deteriorating fast!

      And like you say – especially after a pint, and it can be very frustrating when you know exactly what you want to say – but it just doesn’t come out right 🙂

  2. The regional accents in Britain are so strong! I found it hard to understand some people, and English is my first language. lol The Kiwi accent sounded so harsh to me when I first came back home, after being surrounded by BBC English. Which was an odd experience, too.

    • That is funny! It is strange how quickly one get used to things isn’t it. And since you brought it up; I find it difficult to hear the difference between Kiwi and Australian, and I wouldn’t want to insult a Kiwi by assuming they are Australian so I am always very careful 🙂

      • Oooh yes, good plan. I have to admit the people from the state of South Australia do seem to have accents fairly similar to Kiwis, but the same…oooh that is dangerous ground! lol
        Mind you, I have the same problem with Canadians and Americans, but don’t ever tell a Canadian that!

  3. Hei pa deg!
    Takk for koselig kommentar hos meg 😉 Morsom blogg du har og du tar opp veldig gjenkjennende temaer! Vi har bodd i England i snart 12 ar og jeg opplever kulturforskjellen mellom Norge og England daglig – pluss at jeg har bodd sammen med mannen min fra Iran i 27 ar… Men man venner seg til alt, sa reven osv, hehehe… De fleste engelskmennene jeg kjenner tror jeg ville sagt at det som kjennetegner nordmenn er at vi er sa rett pa sak! Vi ser folk i oynene og sier det vi mener. Vel, jeg ‘prover’ a ikke skremme disse britene for mye og laere ‘a ga rundt groten’ – en daglig utfordring!
    Gleder meg til a lese mere hos deg og humre over vare forskjeller og likheter!

    ha en fin fin helg
    klem Mette

  4. Hei hei, og takk for kommentar – hyggelig å høre fra en som har opplevd og fortsatt opplever det samme 🙂 Vi bodde i England i 8 år og nå synes jeg det er en utfordring å bo her i Norge også!

  5. Asta, I’ve always thought that English is such a difficult language to learn – with words that sound the same (pair and pear), but are spelled differently and mean different things…or are spelled the same [(hair) bow and boat’s (bow)] but aren’t pronounced the same, and then words that don’t sound like they are spelled (knee)…or words that start the same way, but are pronounced differently (choir and chair) – ah – it’s all very confusing!!

    And similar to the UK, we also have different accents here in the U.S. depending what part of the country you are from – some more understandable than others 🙂

  6. Hi Asta,

    I know exactly what you mean. I’m Polish and like yourself I was exposed to American and some British English when I was living in Poland (started learning English when I was 6). Then I came over to Australia at 16 and for the first month I had trouble understanding what my peers were saying to me at school. It was quite embarrassing having to say “excuse me”, “sorry” all the time and having them repeat stuff to me… Now, at 29, I’m still learning. It never ends.

    • You are right – it never ends… Just when you think you have got it all under control a new word comes up… Just this morning my husband told me that our wee lad likes to drink his juice out of a beaker (my husband normally gets him ready in the morning, my it was my turn today)… but what is a beaker?? We have sippy cups for him, and trying to teach him to use a glass… but a beaker?? I eventually found that he meant a plastic cup from ikea… I need to teach him more Norwegian soon 🙂

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