English

The English Lesson You Never Had

Are you a foreign national and you have a decent English vocabulary? Good. Do you have a good understanding of English grammar and do you shudder at seeing the words ‘should of’ appear together in a sentence? Good. This means that you’re fluent in English, right? Wrong.

A common mistake is to assume that knowing a few words and some grammar suffice to speak a language properly. It’s absolutely true that they’re vital building blocks to speak a language properly, but it is not all that you need. For instance, if I were to translate translate a perfectly acceptable Dutch sentence into English, it may come across as very rude – even if the grammar and spelling is faultless. That means there’s a third dimension: culture.

Whereas my native Dutch is a very direct language, Britons often utilise their language to hint at what they mean rather than actually saying it (because: rude). I’ve therefore found that there’s an art to ‘reading between the lines’ as the nuances are easily misunderstood by the untrained ear.

Below are a few examples of this:

Before I Forget
What you think it means: ‘I nearly forgot to tell you this’
What it actually means: ‘This is the sole reason I was talking to you in the first place. Everything I’ve said before was just unimportant rambling’
I hear you
What you think it means: ‘My point of view is accepted’
What it actually means: ‘Your point of view is garbage’
No, thanks, I’m alright for tea
What you think it means: ‘They mean they don’t want a cup of tea’
What it actually means: ‘They may very well want a cup of tea. Ask again’
Why are you doing that?
What you think it means: ‘They’re interested in knowing my reasons for doing this’
What it actually means: ‘Have you lost your mind?’
*Tut*
What you think it means: ‘They’re mildly annoyed’
What it actually means: ‘They’re boiling over with blinding rage’
Perhaps you should consider this idea
What you think it means: ‘They’re being helpful’
What it actually means: ‘They really don’t like your original idea’
I had a drop of liquor
What you think it means: ‘They had a nightcap’
What it actually means: ‘They got hammered’
I must be getting on
What you think it means: ‘They have to go somewhere else’
What it actually means: ‘They don’t necessarily have somewhere to go. They just want to leave’
I’m sure that it’s just me, but…
What you think it means: ‘They are the one who have the problem’
What it actually means: ‘You’re the problem’
I would appreciate it if you could…
What you think it means: ‘A kind request’
What it actually means: ‘I’m very cross’
You should visit me next time you’re in the area
What you think it means: ‘They want me to come over’
What it actually means: ‘They don’t mean it, they’re just being polite’

What this illustrates is that taking all English sentences at face value is surely an ‘interesting’ approach.

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