I am starting to feel like somewhat of a celebrity here in Hamburg. It seems no-one has ever met a Brit before, let alone someone that speaks the Queen’s English. I am, therefore, somewhat of a novelty over here. ‘Wow, you sound so British’ and ‘I love your accent’ are things I hear on a daily basis. I am also frequently asked to repeat things I have said as they sound so ‘quaint’ or ‘British.’ Well, I must say I am enjoying the flattery, though I am also starting to feel somewhat like a parrot. The astonishment at my accent is not only amongst my fellow interns who mainly come from further afield than Germany, let alone Europe, but also my German flatmates.
Although the white cliffs of Dover are a mere 800 km away, and it will only take you 90 minutes by plane to get to London, very few people have actually crossed the channel and have had little or no exposure to ‘British’ English . Many of the Europeans I have spoken to blame it on the fact that most of the films, music and television series they watch are American and they don’t have ready access to British television channels. In Europe, the only places you can watch the BBC are Scandinavia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Admittedly, these countries are all close to the UK, but then again so are France and Germany where MTV and other American channels are widely available on satellite television. It seems the only ‘British’ accent anyone seems to have heard is that of the foppish Hugh Grant in films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than a Hugh Grant romcom, but it seems a terrible shame that this is the only type of English that foreigners are exposed to. While I must admit, my own Oxford English accent is doing nothing to quash the image of the plummy English accent, I am doing my best attempts of Geordie, Brummie, Welsh, Scottish and Scouse, amongst others as there are so many regional accents in the UK.
While I am flying the flag for British English, I cannot help but feel somewhat distressed that children in Europe are growing up learning American rather than British English. Of course, as a Brit I am disparaging of the American drawl and consider American English to be ‘improper,’ but I realise that American English is bound to be more widespread in the world as America is much bigger than dear old Blighty. I do, however, find it astonishing that children in Europe are learning American rather than British English in school, not least because the UK is on the same continent as mainland Europe. One reason why American English is more popular and more readily taught in schools than British English could be that it is much easier to ‘sound’ American, and therefore fluent. American spelling is also simplified (eg color for colour and program for programme), therefore easier to learn. By watching Hollywood films and listening to American music you can easily copy the accents, parrot fashion and develop a convincing accent. On the other hand, it is much harder to get English accent accurate. Even if you were to watch all of the British films ever made and copied the accents it would be hard to get it spot on – it can easily sound very fake.
If you would like to improve your British English here are some tips –
A cell phone is a mobile phone
We walk on the pavement, rather than the sidewalk
In the UK you hang your clothes in a wardrobe, rather than a closet
We wear trousers rather than pants
Chips are called crisps and fries are called chips
This article was not written to cause offence to our American friends. The article is discussing the teaching of English in Europe and informally broaching the subject of American and British English.
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