You Say Tomato, I Say Ermmmm: How Travel Changed My Language
As I sat there nodding in agreement and saying “Ah, Ah, Ah” with every nod, it suddenly dawned on me. Here, in New York City, this kind of vocal acknowledgment wasn’t normal. To locals it must have seemed like an odd nervous twitch. To me it was just something I had picked up during my previous two years of Egyptian living.
After my first year in Canada, I remember Skyping my mother. My older brother was there and I had not spoken to him since I left. He started rolling around laughing saying “You sound American”. With my Ts turned into Ds and saying things like “for sure”, I was losing my London roots.
New Zealand helped me learn how to shorten every saying; America helped me show over-enthusiastic emotion at the awesomeness of life.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I visited a friend who lives in Chester. A French guy with good but not amazing English was staying at the house for a short while. He had arrived the day before and looked bemused by all the talk going on. I found I was able to converse with him well (in English) and he told me that out of everyone at the party, my accent was the most clear.
After living in various countries and traveling, my accent has certainly softened and UK colloquial phrases are mostly gone. A “neutral” and calmer, clearer voice has emerged from my original drawl- and when I communicate with others who aren’t fluent in English I have quick reflex to simplify and slow my speech. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t pick up the local slang as I go along; it’s not an active attempt to localise but I don’t resist it. I am not sentimental about my accent.
As travellers, I don’t think we should be precious about our accent. We should be ready to adapt and embrace other languages and sayings, ways and customs. Let your body language change too and be proud to be able to fit in and transform with ease.
Now, Hungary is calling and I know it’s going to be a real challenge. The Hungarian language is completely alien to me and it has very little relation to any other languages. This means I can’t simply bumble along and get by, I have to learn! Also I know very little about the customs, culture and history. Wish me luck!