Prior to coming to London to study abroad I did not think that I would have any trouble with a language barrier. I soon learned that British English can be a lot different than American English. I recognized this when I started interning at Cameron House School. I work directly with students there because I am a teacher’s aid. I could not help but laugh when a student said “ mind my rubbish Miss. Katie I will put it in the bin in a minute”. Hearing a 4 year old speak so properly about throwing away her garbage in the garbage can sounded quite humorous to me. British English often times is a lot more proper than American English. Another example of this, is when a student asked me “ excuse me Miss Katie may I please go to the loo?” I was again shocked to hear such proper English from a 4-year-old student asking to use the bathroom. An additional thing that I have noticed from teaching is that alot of American English words mean different things in British English. For example, a student of mine asked me if she could take off her jumper because she was hot. I hesitated for a moment thinking to myself “ does this girl honestly think she will be allowed to take off her uniform dress?”, but I soon realized she was referring to her sweater, as a sweater here is known as a jumper. Another encounter of different terms was when a student demanded that she “needed a rubber”. I could not help but laugh but knew right away that she was referring to an eraser. The Brits not only seem to speak more properly and have different words that mean different things but also use different phrases. An example of this is when my cooperating teacher asked me “ how I was finding London so far” it took me a second to understand and also needed a bit of clarification that she meant “ how do you like London so far”. Through these experiences of having a bit of a “language barrier” in London I have become more aware of the importance of language when I am in other countries that actually do not speak English. For example, it is important to always learn how to say the basics such as hello, goodbye, and thank you in that particular country’s language as a respect to their language. I realized that as Americans we are often times ignorant about this, expecting that everyone should speak our language. People do not come into a McDonalds in the United States assuming that they can just say Hola or Ciao for a greeting. They learn how to say Hello in our language. As a study abroad student I am going to try my hardest to learn the basic phrases I need to know in the countries I will be visiting or have visited so that I can respect their language.
Katie Baumgartner is studying abroad in London, England, with the Foundation for International Education (FIE).