It’s a dream for many people to spend a summer break in an exotic foreign country, hanging out with the locals, making a friend or two (or even a summer romance!) and returning home refreshed and fluent in a foreign language.
But can someone just pick up a language simply by being in the country in which it is spoken? Many companies that organize immersion exchange programmes, summer camps or English language courses in an English-speaking country would have you believe that it’s so much easier than with traditional English academies or online English classes. Even the word immersion itself sounds so, well, easy. Just immerse yourself in the language, like standing under a waterfall, and everything will just seep into your skin.
I’m afraid to say that in my case this just did not happen. Before I spent four months travelling around South America, everyone had told me I would ‘pick up’ Spanish as easy as ‘uno, dos, tres’. I took an Ipod full of Spanish songs, somehow hoping that the language flowing through my ears would end up stuck in my brain. But after a month or two, I couldn’t do much more than order a beer and have a basic conversation. So why was I ‘failing’?
Sir Winston Churchill once observed that Americans and the British are ‘a common people divided by a common language’ …
Never was that as true as when describing the Cockneys.
You’ve probably heard their accent, made famous in everything from movies based on Dickens and George Bernard Shaw novels, to computer-generated gekkos telling real gekkos how to go forth and sell car insurance. Linguists say that the Australian accent has its roots in Cockney culture, as they comprised a large percentage of prisoners, shipped there by the British when they viewed the Land Down Under as an ideal penal colony. Cockneys are the crafty characters from east London who admire those among their lot who can make a living simply by ‘ducking and diving, mate,’ which is their version of wheeling and dealing on a working-class level.
From time to time I watch old films, classics from the 1950s or even earlier, and I am often surprised at the accents – the norm for the time presumably, but often the actors sound rather more middle or upper class than nowadays. Even the Queen seems to be speaking in a rather stilted way to the way she sounds in more recent years. Listen to a speech she made as a teenager during war time. Then listen to younger members of the royal family nowadays, such as princes Harry and William. Their accents seem very neutral and ordinary in comparison.
Unless you’ve never been on the internet (impossible if you are reading this), you have probably seen the symbol # popping up in messages and in posts online.
It used to be used to show a number, and was often known as the number sign, or hash. In North America it was also known as the pound sign, but not any more. The internet has changed all that.
Variety is the spice of life, and because many words of modern English come from lots of different sources, French, German, Nordic languages, Latin, Spanish and even Hindi and Eskimo, speakers and writers have lots of choice when it comes to which words to use.
Is this bed hard or solid?
Is he clever / intelligent / bright / smart …?
This all makes English a rich language, but it can be frustrating.