International Native Speaker of English

After I wrote the post about Britishisms, I got to thinking about my own use of language. I mix and match both American and British English all the time. And I don’t have a clear accent of either one. People who hear me speak know that I’m a native speaker but they don’t know where to place me. When they find out I’m Dutch, they immediately presume I’m not a native speaker.

This really bugs me. I’ve been speaking English since I was three. I first learned to read and write in English. I can express myself so much better in English than in Dutch.

But where would I place me?

I guess I’m an international native speaker of English: someone who’s spoken English since they could speak but learned it at an international school from people who come from all over the English-speaking world. Apart from the States and Great Britain, I also had teachers and fellow students from Australia,  South Africa, Canada and Ireland.

I sometimes don’t even know when I’m using an Americanism or not. Once when I was in the States I was asked where I wanted my bag. I told the guy to just put it in the boot of the car. I found it on the back seat. I first thought, ‘What a wanker, why did he ask and then not do it?’ Only later I realised I used the British word for trunk.

I have the same problems when writing a story. I situate it in England and half the words are American. I ask a British friend to read through it and mark all the places where she would use a different word. It always surprises me how much changes. Apartment becomes flat, for example. It’s not that a Brit won’t understand it, but it makes a story situated in England more authentic.



7 thoughts on “International Native Speaker of English

  1. Consistency, consistency, consistency. I find it irritating when, for example, a novel which is set in England uses US terms and spellings, especially when certain terms alter the meaning in the reader’s mind. I offer knock you up, rubber and fanny as just three terms which obscure, rather than make clear, the writer’s meaning, depending on which side of the Atlantic the reader comes from. We may know what the difference is, but we are all tied to our own linguistic culture.

  2. I never realized about such an issue with expatriate native speakers, I kinda assumed they simply used whatever variations were in their nature.
    We, English learners, grow more conscious of the differences, and especially my species – teachers. I always try to recommend students to decide which variant is “theirs” and just stick to it and not become mid-Atlantic in sound. And then I like to add that any variations is English first of all… 🙂
    But nowadays – thanks to globalization – I reckon we need to rethink our priorities…
    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Vanessa!

  3. With regards to the writing, I think that, as you say, a story set in Britain needs to have the characters using Britishisms rather than Americanisms as it does make things more authentic. But in terms of novels that are going to go across the pond, I don’t really see why we should need to change words for the American market, or for American novels to have to be changed to include Britishisms for the UK market. Most of the time we all know what the other variants are, and as Rowena pointed out, considering even in the UK we disagree about the proper meanings of certain words, there’s little point splitting hairs over a few American phrases appearing in books printed in the UK, or the other way around.

  4. As long as we all understand each other, who cares? If anyone don’t understand, just ask. I’m a Malaysian and have spoken English since I was born. I am happy to be labelled non-native speakers because perhaps we didn’t learnt English the same way as born and bred English do. I use a mix mesh Americanised, British words these days. I blame it on wide-spread American TV and entertainment.

    Living in UK now, I’m acutely aware of the different use of words which are American or British in day to day conversations.

  5. It’s all part of the rich tapestry that is English now; the more people who speak it, the more variations there are. But it’s not just differences between countries. In the UK there are vigorously defended regional differences too. Take a simple word like ‘dinner’, for some it is a meal taken in the middle of the day, others have it in the evening.

    1. This is very true. When I told a friend, over skype, I was going to have tea they asked why I took too long to boil a kettle. I was eating my main meal of the day.

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