My English is not your English

Is ‘disorientated’ a word? Ask someone from the USA, and they are likely to say no. But it’s absolutely correct in British English.

Languages change constantly and English is no exception. That causes confusion sometimes, and not just if you’re learning English as a foreign language. The variations of English which have developed in the USA, Canada and Australia have been around for some time. But other world regions have also developed their own brand of English. There are regional variations of English within the UK itself. Singlish, Hinglish, Chinglish and others are all becoming more commonly heard. When two non-native speakers communicate in English, they are likely to use a kind of ‘International’ or ‘Global’ English.

English is sometimes described as ‘the world’s second language’, and the ability of people in many different parts of the world to communicate using (International) English undoubtedly helps global trade and communications. And as global interaction increases, so does the use of English as lingua franca.

We can expect that as non-English speaking countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and others continue to grow their economies and play a bigger part in world affairs, even more kinds of English will start to appear.

I often read that native English speakers have it easy. I don’t fully agree with that. It’s true that we don’t have to learn a whole new language. But if we want to communicate effectively with non-native speakers using English, we need to work hard to choose our words and structures carefully.

My friends here in Turkey – a mixture of Turkish, French, Italian and Catalan speakers – use a language they call ‘Mediterranean English’. When I’m with them, I need to adapt my English or I’ll be talking to myself. Learning to adapt patterns of speech which have been ingrained since childhood is not so easy either.

PocketCultures contributors come from many different countries. And they use different varieties of English, so the articles you read on PocketCultures reflect that – they aren’t written using the same kind of English. For us, it’s another aspect of the world’s diversity to be celebrated.

What do you think about different varieties of English? A reflection of the world’s variety or a source of confusion?

Read more:
The world’s most difficult languages
Top 10 languages on the Internet
How difficult is Chinese?

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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  • As a TEFL (Teacher of Eng. as a Foreign Language) and as an expat who uses English to communicate with people from all over the world here in the NL, I am really fascinated by the way we, non-native English speakers, have an infuence on how the language is spoken and how all these different varieties of English are becoming more and more widespread. Really interesting!

  • Hi Aledys. I agree, it’s fascinating to see! Migration has always influenced language evolution, but I guess modern communications technologies mean the effects are felt even without large numbers of people moving countries. Thanks for commenting!

  • Could you tell me more about the “Meditterranean English”? How do you describe it? So interesting!

    I also love to learn about these differences of the same language in different parts of the country.

    I give an example in Portuguese. If you want an espresso in Lisbon, you ask for “uma bica”, but if you are in Oporto, you should ask for “um cimbalino”.

    And we could go on and on… :-)

  • Nuria

    Very interesting and nice post, Lucy! ;) This is so true, the information technology available nowadays makes it easier to learn the different varieties of languages. I try to teach that to my students by listening to songs, watching movies, videos, reading and communicating with others. It’s interesting how there are beliefs concerning this, the other day a student asked me if she would be willing to communicate in England by using her English, which we consider American coz that’s what we mostly teach here in Costa Rica…and before she let me answer, she said: “Well, coz I know British English is better” lol It’s so important to teach people that none language variation is better ;)

  • Sandra – we also have regional variations in England, for example in some regions bread rolls are called ‘cobs’ and in other places they are called ‘baps’. Also, where I’m from we often use the word ‘mardy’, which means in a bad mood, but sometimes people from other parts of England have never heard this word!

    Hmmm, it is hard to describe the ‘Mediterranean English’. Really it’s a joke, nothing official of course :) For example, maybe if someone doesn’t know the word in English, they just add the word from their own language and everyone else can more or less know what it means. I have to pay better attention so I can describe it better!

  • Nuria – thanks a lot. It’s very interesting the effect of technology. People say that before television the regional variations of English spoken in the UK were much more pronounced. Who knows, maybe technology will help to bring other varieties of English closer together as well.

  • I know what you mean, Liz ;-)
    Sometimes I make sentences with Dutch, English, French and Portuguese words at the same time.
    My brain is getting full of new Dutch words and sometimes I don’t rebember how to say a word in the language that I’ve learned before. I rebember the first word but I don’t rebember the next one in the same language. It’s very funny!!
    And because the place of the words in Dutch is the opposite in English, I find myself making even strange sentences!

  • I think I’ll have to contribute that ‘disoriented’ is something us Canadians picked up from the Americans. In fact, reading your first sentence “Is DISORIENTATED a word?” I thought ‘of course disoriented is a word! What in the world would Americans say instead?’ Then I read the thread you linked to and understood.

    And about learning English- I’ve heard a lot that Canadians have the most ‘neutral accent’, so it’s easiest to understand and learn. Maybe this is because we are a mix between American and British? Or maybe people just say it to encourage me to help them learn more!

  • I find Canadian spelling difficult, for precisely that reason! It’s easy to tell American words beacause they are the ones that are different from British english, but since Canadian takes some spellings from the UK and some from the US it’s really confusing! The Canadian accent seems easy to understand to me, too.

  • I really enjoyed this post because I teach ESL and live with non-native speakers in my family. It is SO true that we native speakers have to adjust the way we speak with others in order to aid understanding. I love being with people learning English– they are usually so eager and speak so much better than most Americans could hope to speak in a second language! :-)